COVID-19 FAQs: What is social distancing?

CDC stresses 6-foot rule, updates quarantine and isolation rules

Social distancing: Woman works from home sitting on exercise ball at her desk faces a computer screen and large windows.

COVID-19 vaccines have saved countless lives and allowed many of us to return to something resembling a normal life. But the pandemic is still here, and the coronavirus keeps making new variants.

In addition to vaccination, you should continue to follow personal hygiene advice: Wear a mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, refrain from shaking other people’s hands, avoid touching your face, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when you’re sick.

Here are additional steps you can take.

What is social distancing?

According to the CDC, social distancing is:

  • Maintaining distance — at least 6 feet — from others when possible
  • Working or schooling from home
  • Remaining out of places where groups of people gather, such as bars, restaurants, food courts and gyms
  • Avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people

What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Consider isolation and quarantine as part of a spectrum of restricted movement.

If physical or social distancing is on one end of the spectrum, quarantine is in the middle, and isolation is on the other end. All three help to protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease, the CDC says.

Recently, the CDC has changed some of its guidelines, but the same principles apply.

What are the latest quarantine rules?

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

If you’re up-to-date with your vaccination, including a booster shot, or you tested positive for the virus within the last 90 days, you do not need to stay home unless you develop symptoms, the CDC says. You should get tested at least five days after exposure, however, and take precautions like wearing a surgical mask or better for 10 days.

For those who have not completed their vaccinations including getting a booster, if eligible, the recommendation is to quarantine for five days, wear a well-fitted mask, like a surgical mask, around others in your home and take precautions for 10 days. This recommendation also applies to individuals who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine five months ago or a Janssen (J&J) vaccine two months ago.

The CDC also recommends testing five days after close contact with someone who has the virus. Close contact is defined as being less than 6 feet away from an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinical diagnosis) for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.

For residents of nursing homes who are unvaccinated, those who have come in close contact with an infected person should be in quarantine for 14 days even if viral testing is negative.

Fully vaccinated residents who have come in close contact should wear masks and be tested but do not need to be quarantined unless they develop symptoms or are directed to do so by local health authorities.

What’s the latest on isolation?

Isolation separates people who are sick with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

If you have symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test, the CDC advises you to stay at home for five days and isolate from others in your home, regardless of your vaccination status. It is important to wear a surgical mask or better if you have to be around others.

You can end isolation after five days if you are fever-free and your symptoms are improving, but need to continue wearing a mask days six through 10.

If you were severely ill with COVID-19, the CDC recommends isolation for 10 days and consultation with a doctor before ending isolation. Avoid travel for those 10 days and avoid being around people who are at high risk.

How can we stay connected during social distancing?

Short-term, isolation can be the healthier choice, to prevent the spread of infection. But, “over time, human beings need to be interconnected,” said Sanford Health licensed psychologist Jon Ulven, Ph.D.

He suggests that people plan to maintain contact with others via phone calls, social media, video chats or any other digital platforms.

“Discuss the plan for staying in touch,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CDC recommends keeping tabs on vulnerable people such as older adults. Find ways to help, such as checking on them to make sure they’re getting meals and other essentials.

Information in this story was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

Learn more

Posted In Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions, Healthy Living