Are You in Quarantine or Isolation?

Terms to Put to Your Current Predicament

Quarantine: is when a government or other power “imposes” a limitation on a person (or animal or place) to protect against a disease. “A restraint upon the activities or communication of persons… designed to prevent the spread of disease; a state of enforced isolation.” [Merriam Webster]. Quarantine is used to separate and restrict the movement of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable disease to see if they become ill.” [HHS]

Fun Facts: The word “Quarantine” derives from Italian “quarantina” or “forty days,” which is how long ships commonly had to wait in the harbor before they could unload their goods onshore in 17th century Italy.

The practice of quarantining dates before the name- it was invented to try to control the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century. London implemented more formalized and widespread quarantine measures during the resurgence- and inflation- of the Bubonic Plague in 1666. Reading through the details of life during the “Great Plague” sounds eerily reminiscent of our own current “Social Distancing.”

Self-Quarantine: this is what so many of us are doing right now- rather than being forced to stay distant, we are in our own homes voluntarily. We feel well- but understand that we might unwittingly have the Coronavirus and endanger people in our community.

Even if we do not believe we have been exposed- we self-quarantine right now to help “flatten the curve.”

Isolation: When people ill with an infectious (“communicable”) disease are separated from those that are healthy. This has always been a common hospital practice when a patient presents with a communicable disease. Enforced Isolation can occur in a person’s home or in a hospital setting, depending on the medical needs of the person infected- but neither are voluntary.

Self-Isolation: This is how many of us, and often the press, are describing us healthy people choosing to work from home and help “flatten-the-curve,” but as we are not infected (or hope we aren’t) it is more accurate to say we are self-quarantined.

Containment Area: Putting an entire geographic area within limits, such as the one-mile cordoning off in New Rochelle, NY, on March 11th. This appeared to be an act of force (the National Guard came in), but residents in the area were  free to move in and out of the boundary imposed.

The restriction was on gatherings within the zone; the National Guard wasn’t in New Rochelle in a “military capacity” but for “logistical and operational support,” such as distributing food and helping to disinfect public areas. [quote]

The “Containment Area” in New Rochelle expired on March 25th but had already become mute as the entire state of New York is now under stay-at-home orders. As an interesting side note, however, it appears the early lockdown of the 1-mile area may have served to lower the impact of Coronavirus in that location. Last week 73 people were hospitalized from Westchester County with 12 deaths. None of those deaths were from New Rochelle.

Exile: Although not relevant to the Covid-19 crisis, exile has been used in this country to address health issues. The most notable example is the establishment of the Kalaupapa leprosy settlements in Hawaii in 1865, ordered by King Kamehameha V.

Over a century, as many as 1,200 (the number varies in other sources from 8,000 to 11,000) residents lived secluded by “some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world.” [quote]. The forced exile removed these people from their families and homes (any children born in the colony during that time were removed at birth by law).

Although Leprosy (now correctly called Hansen’s Disease) has been treatable since the 1940s, compulsory exile laws were not abolished in America until 1969. People who were among the last to be exiled to Kalaupapa were allowed to choose if they wanted to live out their lives in the only home they remembered. In August 2015, there were 16 people still living in the settlement.

The stigma of Hansen’s Disease persists, and “Leper colonies” still exist throughout the world, particularly in India.

What Next?

Frequent Fontenot readers (thank you) were probably hoping for a bit more substance on the conflicting roles of the State v Federal governments and the rights of individuals to fight restrictions to their freedom in a health crisis- and we will be getting back to both.

But for now- make the most of your self-quarantine. *

Be safe, hug your family unit often, and happy hand washing.

*If you are, in fact, in Isolation- I know I extend the thoughts and prayers of all readers with my own.


Want to Know More?

  1. If you would like to know more about life in exile in America, “Olivia, My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa,” is the first-hand account of Olivia Rabello Breitha, who was sent to the colony when she was 18. She stayed there until her death at 90 in 2006.

  2. For a truly great read that feels like a first-hand account of life during the Great Plague in London in 1666– I highly recommend What Social Distancing Looked Like in 1666 from the New York Times, here.