posts » COVID-19: isolation - what does it mean?

COVID-19: isolation - what does it mean?

In my posts about the COVID-19 virus yesterday and the day before , I have advised people to isolate - even withstanding current government advice in some countries which is not advocating the same. Today, I will talk a little bit more about what this means by providing some answers to various frequently asked questions.


Simply put, this means you should stay home. This is particularly true if you are older (over 60 years old is probably a reasonable cut-off) - but I am advocating this for everyone.

And when I say, "stay home," I mean: do not leave your house. Do not go to the shops, do not talk to your neighbour in the street, do not go see your family, do not go to the theatre, the cinema or out for dinner, and do your utmost to avoid doctors' surgeries and hospitals.

Why isolate?

Isolation will protect you. If you don't have the virus already (most of us still don't), it will vastly reduce your chances of contracting it. And, more importantly, it will vastly reduce your chances of passing it on to someone else.

Isolation will also provide us with the one thing that may help combat this epidemic: time. We need time to learn more about the virus (how it is transmitted, how it can be stopped), to develop treatments and vaccines, and to enable our health systems to cope. It's a bit like getting a bus: if everybody tries to get on the 07:30 bus to get to work, there's not enough space and some people have to wait for the next one. Similarly, if we all get sick at once, there won't be enough room in the hospitals or enough equipment to look after the people who need it - and in this scenario (if you need hospital, if you have breathing difficulties), the option of waiting for the next one is not really there. People will die.

What about food?

There are several important points related to this:

  • Order your shopping online. Most of the people who are reading this are fortunate - we live in developed countries. There are supermarket delivery services that will drop food at your door (I've heard stories that they'll then go back to the van and send you a text message to say your food is outside!).

  • Plan ahead. Everyone is going to be doing this, so delivery slots etc will be at a premium. The further in advance you order, the better: you can already order next week's shopping today!

  • Don't panic (buy)!. Classic advice from the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy. There will be sufficient food for all - there already is, why would that change? Our supply chains are designed to bring food into our countries, towns, cities, villages on a regular and continual basis: if today's supplies run out, there will be more in a few days. So, yes: it's a good idea to ensure your supplies are topped up (a few kilos of rice or pasta will eventually get eaten) but it's not necessary to buy a year's supply of food today or tomorrow. Indeed, most of us won't have space to store that amount of food. And even if you did, you will need to get top-ups of somethings at some point - the vitamins and nutrients in fresh food are incredibly important for us! Just think of all those sailors who got scurvy after months at sea....

What about education?

In the big picture, it's probably better to be poorly educated and alive rather than well educated and dead. Focusing in a little, missing a few weeks of school isn't going to harm anyone.

Additionally, if you're at home with children, there's probably plenty you can teach them!

I'll run out of money if I don't work

I don't think this is going to be a problem. Things may be tight for some people for a little while. But many of us are experts at surviving with a lot less than we're really used to. Spend your money wisely - food and not toys.

More importantly, this is not your problem alone: businesses are going to grind to a halt, the economy is diving, a lot of people will be in a similar position. Bigger measures will be put into place - either by governments or, if they really fail to do this (which I doubt) then by other organisations. Either way, I believe that adequate food and essentials will be ensured for all.

And if you really want, you can think of this as a general strike: if sufficient people are not working and are running out of money to buy food and essentials, the government or other authorities will have to act.

But I really need to leave the house....

It's ok. It happens. Today, I'm working in a hospital (it's not too busy at the moment, hence why I'm able to write) and there was no way I could stay at home. Similarly, other people have important jobs to do - the food shops need to open, delivery people are required. But we all need to do what we can to minimise the risk of transmission. As I said already, this won't magically make things better, but it does give us time to help prepare better for the future.

I'm a working parent - what do I do with the children?

This is a tricky situation. But do you really need to go to work? Many countries have been closing all non-essential businesses (France, Italy, Chile, China, the list gets longer everyday), it's likely that your country soon will too... And that will only be encouraged by people taking things into their own hands and not going to work!

If you really have no option, is there another family you know where the parent(s) can also look after your child(ren)? Children will not generally be symptomatic (and no deaths have been reported below 9 years of age) so it doesn't matter so much if they get ill. The worry is that they will come into contact with elderly people afterwards - and thus transmit the virus to people who are much more susceptible to suffer consequences. If at all possible, try to prevent this: if you're child is out socialising, then you see the child (overnight) and the next day you visit an elderly person, you could be transmitting the virus! In this situation, the better thing might be to ask someone else to help the older person.

How long will this last?

I don't know. It could be 2-3 months, it could be 6-12 months. I think it is very unlikely to just be a few weeks - this is the new normal. We all need to get used to it for the foreseeable future. The 1918 influenza pandemic (also known as the Spanish flu epidemic) lasted three years, from the beginning of 1918 to the end of 1920.

I heard that...

Be very sceptical! There are a lot of rumours starting to go around already. This is not a biological warfare that has been started by the Americans or the Chinese. The virus will not be attenuated by drinking lots of hot drinks.

Look for articles that provide you with evidence to back up their positions. Look for links to scientific literature and/or reputable sources of information. Do not believe rumours that are being circulated on social media or messaging systems like WhatsApp or Facebook that do not have links back to other reputable sites. Think about who you can trust - and think carefully. Remember, be sceptical!

Everything's so depressing!

No, there is some brightness and some good things that will come out of this:

  • The environment is going to have a break from all the pollution.

  • We have the opportunity to really transform our societies and to build up different and better links with our communities. Phone someone. Write an email. Try out video-conferencing (I recommend jitsi as a great means of talking with people remotely)

  • The benefits of open science are being proven. There have already been many, many articles published and most if not all of the major scientific publishers are making all articles about COVID-19 freely accessible.

  • Society is going to progress enormously in terms of how we organise ourselves - particularly with respect to use of the internet, but also in how we manage home deliveries and care, drug development and medical distributions, etc.

How about nice healthy walk, not getting nearer than 2 metres to anyone Don't open door Put no circulars notice on door Open post or deliveries THEN wash hands Decline visits form friendlywell-intneiotned neighbours

Comment by Diana Sun 15 Mar 2020 13:35:28 UTC
I think your suggestions aren't bad. But I would still advise against doing much. Definitely don't open the door if you can avoid it. Definitely wash hands frequently. Definitely decline visits from well-intentioned neighbours. Although ultimately, people will probably need help and we have to do that too. Is there someone who can help without being a major vector for spread? healthy walks are good, but how will you ensure you always stay away from others? Two metres is guidance - the fact is we don't know what a safe distance is; we don't really even know how the virus is spreading (it's assumed aerosol, but...)
Comment by asm [] Sun 15 Mar 2020 21:14:10 UTC

It's interesting to see your analyses, However I think it's absolutist, to say covid isolation.

What for those of us participating in essential grass roots services. Volunteer Foodbanks, Homeless support, drop in advice centres. We do these things not for fun but because they are required.

Do you have any advice in maintaining this critical infrastructure ?


Comment by thisbodyofmine Mon 16 Mar 2020 10:59:00 UTC

It's interesting to see your analyses, However I think it's absolutist, to say covid isolation.

What for those of us participating in essential grass roots services. Volunteer Foodbanks, Homeless support, drop in advice centres. We do these things not for fun but because they are required.

Do you have any advice in maintaining this critical infrastructure ?


Comment by thisbodyofmine Mon 16 Mar 2020 10:59:08 UTC
If Corona isolation gets too depressing, there is psychological (health insurance paid) video telephone help in Germany.The Kassenäztliche Vereinigung or health insurances might help you to find such a service. Don't know whether this applies to other countries as well.
Comment by psychotherapie Sat 21 Mar 2020 08:58:10 UTC