When Should You Stay Home? Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered

Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich/WBEZ, Centers for Disease Control, Prevention
Photo illustration by Paula Friedrich/WBEZ, Centers for Disease Control, Prevention

When Should You Stay Home? Your Coronavirus Questions, Answered

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WBEZ is answering your questions about the coronavirus in Illinois. Have a question? Ask us here.

As the coronavirus spreads across the U.S., employers could start telling more people in the Chicago area to work from home.

But some people must stay home. If public health officials determine you may have been exposed to the virus, they can tell you to say inside, whether you are showing symptoms or not.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Irfan Hafiz from Northwestern Medicine said that self-quarantine is not as scary as it sounds.

What does “self-quarantine” really mean?

A self-quarantine is for people who have the potential to become sick because they were exposed to the virus. Most of these people will not have been infected, but public health officials have asked them to stay inside for 14 days to prevent potential spread to the general population. Hafiz said it’s like “a forced vacation” for the virus’ two week incubation period.

Does self-quarantine mean health officials think I have the virus?

No. Self-quarantine is a precautionary measure to protect the public and contain the virus, Hafiz said.

What should I do if I’m asked to self-quarantine?

Minimize your contact with others, even the people you live with, Hafiz said.

Here are some other tips:

  • Have friends or relatives run errands for you.
  • Have medications and groceries delivered to your home.
  • If you live with a partner, sleep in separate rooms. (Most coronavirus cases in Illinois so far have been couples.)
  • Frequently use hand sanitizer and wash your hands with warm, soapy water.
  • Use different bathrooms from family or roommates if possible.
  • If there is only one toilet in the home, disinfect surfaces between uses.

What if I have a family?

If you must be the primary caregiver, wear a mask when taking care of your children or relatives, Hafiz said. While public health officials are not promoting the use of face masks for the general population, it is appropriate when you have been exposed to the virus.

If I am under self-quarantine, what’s keeping me from going outside?

If public health officials tell you to stay home, you have to. You may be legally liable if you decide to violate it, because it “becomes a public health concern,” Hafiz said.

If public health officials tell me to stay home, will I automatically be tested?

Only if you are showing symptoms, Hafiz said. The public health department may call you to check in, but there is no reason to test an excess of healthy people.

If I am feeling sick under self-quarantine, what do I do?

Contact your local public health department if symptoms like fever, chills and coughing develop. Do not show up to the emergency room with a fever — you can expose others, Hafiz said.

Is it ever OK to leave the house while under self-quarantine?

“Emergencies,” Hafiz said. “I’m sure there are some, but they should be rare.”