The recent rises in COVID-19 cases across the country – in all age groups and communities – are a stark warning to us all that we need to keep working together to slow the spread of the virus.
One of the best ways we can protect ourselves and each other is to remember; hands, face, space. That means washing our hands regularly, wearing a face covering in enclosed public places and keeping our distance from people who aren’t in our household. These actions will help prevent coronavirus from spreading, protecting the people around us. We also need to reduce our circle of contacts so there are less opportunities for the virus to spread through our communities.
But in this blog, we want to focus on why self-isolation is still vitally important to stop COVID-19 from spreading in our community, particularly to people who could become very sick if they catch the virus.
You need to self-isolate if:
- you have any COVID-19 symptoms while you wait for a test (the symptoms are a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell)
- you test positive for COVID-19
- you’re notified by NHS Test and Trace that you could be at risk of having coronavirus because you’ve been in close contact with someone who has the virus.
What is self-isolation and how long should I isolate for?
Self-isolation means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people. In practical terms, this means that you must:
- stay at home
- not go to work, school or to public areas
- not use public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis
- avoid visitors to your home
- ask friends, local family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you – such as getting groceries, medications or other shopping.
By self-isolating, you are not only protecting your community, you are also helping all those who may become very sick if they become infected and those key workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. It’s an incredibly important and effective way of slowing the spread of a disease like COVID-19.
We now know that people can pass the virus on even when they don’t have symptoms. If you leave home while you could be infectious, even if you feel fine, you could pass the virus onto other people, including people who are vulnerable to very serious illness. That’s why it’s especially important to self-isolate if you are told you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, whether you feel unwell yourself or not.
How long you will need to self-isolate for depends on your situation.
You must isolate for 10 days
If you have any coronavirus symptoms you must isolate immediately for 10 days (don’t wait for a test or a test result before doing so). After 10 days it’s unlikely you will still be infectious, so you can then leave your home, following the general guidance on staying alert and safe.
You must isolate for 14 days
If you are identified as a contact of someone who has coronavirus you must isolate for 14 days. If someone in your household has the virus, you need to continue to self-isolate for 14 days from the point that household member first developed symptoms. If you’ve been identified as the close contact of someone outside your household who has the virus, you need to self-isolate until 14 days after your last contact with them. This is because you are at risk of developing COVID-19 for 14 days. Even if you never develop symptoms, you can still be infected and pass the virus on without knowing it.
If you do have a negative test during this time, you still need to self-isolate for the full period. This is because you could still develop COVID-19 and pass it on to other people. It is important that everyone understands that a negative test result during your self-isolation does NOT mean you can stop self-isolating early. You could put other people at risk of catching the virus if you do.
We know that self-isolation can be difficult, stressful or inconvenient. As infectious disease experts who have seen the impact of COVID-19, particularly on older or vulnerable people, we’re incredibly grateful to the many thousands of people across the country that have self-isolated in order to protect other people around them – by self-isolating you are saving lives.
There are lots more tips and information on GOV.UK about how to self-isolate including guidance for people who have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a contact of a person who has had a positive test result for COVID-19.
Here are some important facts about self-isolation:
You can get support to help you self-isolate
For many people who are self-isolating it will be possible to make plans with nearby family and friends to help manage everyday tasks like picking up shopping or running errands (most supermarkets offer online shopping with contact-free delivery).
Plan ahead – think now about what you or one of your friends and family would need to do if you had to self-isolate. Talk to the people around you and plan for how you could have your shopping, medicines and other supplies brought to you. Talk to your employer about the plans they have in place to support you to self-isolate.
Further support may also be available from your local authority, NHS volunteer responders or a mutual aid group that connect those in need to local volunteers. Visit their websites for the most up to date information.
Self-isolating can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people but it’s important to remember that what you are doing is a very important way of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting others. Make sure you keep in touch with the people you would normally talk to, via the telephone or online, whilst you are self-isolating. There are a range of online resources created to help you if you are feeling low, worried or anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Every Mind Matters. Other organisations are also there to help by phone, such as the Samaritans, Mind and Age UK.
If you are an employee and unable to work from home, please refer to guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions to find out about the support that is available to you to help you to self-isolate.
You may be entitled to a one-off payment of at least £500 through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme if you are required to stay at home and self-isolate.
If you need medical support because you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, then use the NHS 111 online COVID-19 service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.
Self-isolation is not the same as social distancing
Terms like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” are now regularly used by us all and are rarely out of the media so it’s easy to use the terms interchangeably, but it’s important to understand that they are not the same thing.
Self-isolation means staying at home, and not leaving your home, because you could be at greater risk of passing COVID-19 on to others. Self-isolation is a critically important step for people to take when they are at most risk of passing on the virus to other people.
Social distancing is about everyone remembering to keep a safe distance from others when we’re out and about, at work, shopping, on public transport, in the park and so on.
When you are self-isolating, you should avoid contact with others in your household wherever possible. If you share facilities like toilets and bathrooms, regular cleaning will be required. You should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home. In the guidance, there are specific recommendations in the case that a separate bathroom is not available, if you live in shared accommodation, and if you share a kitchen with others, and these should be followed closely.
This is especially important if you live with people who are more vulnerable to the serious effects of COVID-19. Where you can, you should move vulnerable people out of the home, if that isn’t possible then you should have minimal contact with them while you are isolating. Wash your hands and clean surfaces regularly and thoroughly.
We can all support each other
Self-isolation can be difficult and you should check-in with your family, friends and neighbours if you know they’re self-isolating and see if you can help them. Maybe they need some shopping or perhaps they’re feeling lonely and need someone to talk to on the phone. Self-isolation should not mean social isolation. Even small actions can have a big impact.