Social distancing, self-isolating and shielding: what are they and how do they differ?

Posted on: 2nd April 2020

Social distancing, shielding and self-isolation are all measures that are aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 by protecting yourself and others.  Below we explain what these three terms mean and how they differ.

Social distancing refers to the measures you must take to distance yourself from anyone who is not a member of your household.  This means staying at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart from other people.  There is no exception to this e.g. you need to adhere to social distancing measures with members of the family who do not live with you.

It also means avoiding face-to-face contact where possible, washing your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds and following strict hygiene advice.

Self-isolation applies to people who have symptoms of coronavirus and people who live with them.

Self-solation measures also apply to people who are at an increased risk of coronavirus, which includes people over the age of 70, pregnant women and if you have a condition, including some liver conditions, that increases your risk.

In addition to social distancing steps, this involves:

  • Staying at home and not going out. Do not leave your home to walk (such as in a park) or to visit schools or other public places. You can go into your garden if you have one.
  • Staying away from other people in your home. Try to keep at least 3 steps (2 metres) away from others, particularly people over 70 or with a long-term condition.
  • Sleeping alone if you can.
  • Not having any visitors. Ask people to leave deliveries for you outside.

Shielding is a way to protect people who are extremely vulnerable from coming into contact with coronavirus by minimising all interaction between them and other people.

If you fall in this category, you must ‘shield by staying at home at all times and avoid all face to-face contact for at least twelve weeks, except from carers and healthcare workers who you must see as part of your medical care.

The rest of your household should support you to stay safe and closely follow guidance on social distancing (above), reducing their contact inside and outside the home. This will help protect you by stopping you from coming into contact with the virus.

In your home, you should:

  • minimise the time you spend with others in shared spaces (kitchen, bathroom and sitting areas) and keep any shared spaces well ventilated.
  • aim to keep 2 metres away from others and encourage them to sleep in a different bed where possible.
  • use separate towels and, if possible, use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household, or clean the bathroom with cleaning products after every use.
  • avoid using the kitchen when others are present, take your meals back to your room to eat where possible, and ensure all kitchenware is cleaned thoroughly using a dishwasher if possible, otherwise in very warm soapy water.

If the rest of your household are able to follow this guidance to help keep you safe, there is no need for them to wear any special medical clothing or equipment.

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