Confused by the various guidelines around the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s what you need to know.
What exactly is self-isolation and how do you keep you and your family safe during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
If you’re unsure about the latest guidelines on social distancing, self-isolation and shielding (or even the difference between the three), you’re not alone.
To help lessen the confusion, Dr Andrew Thornber, Chief Medical Officer at Now Patient offers his expert advice.
Social distancing and staying alert
What is social distancing?
Social distancing measures are the steps you can take to reduce social interaction between people. This will help to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
How to socially distance yourself
So, how do you social distance yourself ?
Avoid social contact
Avoid social contact with other people, especially big family gatherings. If in contact, stay two metres away from each other.
Avoid public transport
Avoid the use of public transport. If you must travel, avoid rush hour and busy times, and again aim to sit two metres away from others.
Work from home
Work from home, if possible.
Avoid events and certain leisure activities
Avoid attending events, cinemas, gyms or places with large gatherings.
Minimise GP appointments
Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.
Who is recommended to social distance?
The government’s latest advice is that people should stay at home unless necessary to go out for specific reasons. These include:
- for work where you cannot work from home
- going to shops for things like food and medicine, and to collect goods ordered online or on the phone
- to exercise (and from 13 May, to spend time outdoors for recreation)
- any medical need, such as to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm or to provide care to a vulnerable person.
Those people who need to leave home for one of the above should “stay safe in public spaces and workplaces by following ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines”.
People who leave home are advised to stay safe by:
- Washing your hands regularly
- Maintaining social distancing
- Ensuring you do not gather in groups of more than two, except with other members of your household or specific exceptions under the law.
- You must continue to stay home except for a limited set of reasons.
- From 13 May, people can take part in more outdoor activities.
What about vulnerable people?
The above advice is recommended for people who are fit and well. People who are “clinically vulnerable” should continue to minimise contact with others outside of their household as much as possible.
Clinically vulnerable people include:
- Those aged over 70
- Those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions
How does social distancing differ from self isolation?
Social isolation is for those who may have COVID-19, or have met someone who has (or thinks they might have) COVID-19. They may need to stay indoors (not go out) for 14 days.
Can you leave the house if you are social distancing?
People are being encouraged to still try to stay fit and healthy, and get outside in the garden and take walks. If you’re out walking, aim to maintain a distance of two metres from other people.
If you must go out to the shops, try to go out at times when it’s less likely to be too busy (such as first thing in the morning or later in the evening), and again avoid public transport if possible.
Can you exercise or visit public places if you are social distancing?
From 13 May, you can exercise outside as often as you wish, as well as sitting and resting outside for recreation purposes alone, with members of your household or with one other from outside of your household while keeping two metres apart.
You may also drive to outdoor publicly accessible open spaces irrespective of distance but are advised to follow social distancing guidance while there.
What about attending public gatherings?
The government has banned public gatherings of more than two people, except in certain situations:
- where the gathering is of a group of people who live together in the same household
- where the gathering is essential for work purposes.
Can you go to work?
The latest advice is that “all workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open”. However, only certain sectors of the economy have been told that they are allowed to be open. These include food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research.
However, employees should still, where possible, maintain a two-metre distance from one another and wash their hands regularly.
Should you avoid family and friends?
While social distancing, it’s important to avoid big group gatherings, such as meals and birthday celebrations. If you have to see family and friends, check they feel well and don’t hug or kiss, aiming to stay two metres apart. If the gathering is in your home, wash all towels and clean all areas they may have used (for example bathrooms).
What about going to hospital or GP appointments?
Before you travel, check whether any routine hospital appointments are still taking place. Try to keep GP appointments via mobile or online consultations. If it is necessary for you to visit a GP surgery or hospital, follow the usual hygiene routines as mentioned.
How to look after your wellbeing while social distancing
Keeping away from others can be hard on your emotional and mental health, but there are tips you should try, to help you feel better:
- Use technology to stay in touch with friends and family.
- Try to get some fresh air – even if it’s just a walk in the garden.
- Exerciseif you’re fit enough to do so. You can use online health videos or just go for a walk (avoiding others).
- Eat as well as you can and drinks lots of water.
- Enjoy hobbies such as cooking and gardening.
Who needs to self-isolate?
Anyone who shows any coronavirus signs or symptoms should self-isolate for seven days.
If you live with other people, they should also stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home. After 14 days you should be able to return to your normal routine. You do not need to contact your GP, hospital, pharmacy or 111.
How do you self-isolate?
Self-isolation means staying indoors and completely avoiding contact with other people. For those with a continuous cough or fever, it means self-isolating immediately – not popping to the shops first or finishing things off at work.
If you live with other people, try to stay in another room, or at least two metres away from them, especially if those you live with are vulnerable people or over the age of 70. Make sure you stay in a well-ventilated room, with a window that can be opened.
Does everyone have to stay indoors?
If one member of the family is ill, does everyone in the household have to stay indoors? Yes – current advice is that if you live with someone who has a new continuous cough or fever, the whole household must stay indoors for 14 days, to help prevent the spread.
If you live with others and share a kitchen or other spaces, try to avoid use at the same time, and clean all surfaces with household cleaning products.
People living with someone in isolation should wash their hands often, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially after coming into contact with them. You should also avoid sharing towels or toiletries, and again keep bathrooms cleaned.
Tip – If you live with someone who is in a vulnerable group i.e. an over 70, someone with an underlying condition or who is pregnant, try and distance yourself from them for at least 14 days.
Are you allowed to take deliveries during self-isolation?
If you need to take deliveries while you are self-isolating, ask the delivery person to leave the package in a safe place, so you limit the spread of germs. Friends or family can also drop off groceries, but again, ask them to leave them outside.
What if your symptoms get worse or you need medical attention?
Symptoms can vary from person to person. If you are getting worse, can’t manage your symptoms at home or are not getting better after seven days, then you should use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.
If you don’t have internet access then call NHS 111. Do not go to your GP, as you could spread your germs and infect others. Obviously, for a medical emergency you can dial 999.
What is shielding?
Shielding is a measure to protect those people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” and at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
People who are shielding are strongly advised to protect themselves by staying at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact.
- Not leaving your house
- Not attending any gatherings, including gatherings with friends and family members in private spaces, such as at weddings or funerals.
- Avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
Who should be shielding?
The government guidance on shielding is for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, including children.
People should have received a letter telling them they are in this group or been told by their GP. It is also for their family, friends and carers.
It applies to any clinically extremely vulnerable person who is living at home, with or without support, and includes people living in long-term care facilities for the elderly or people with special needs.
Who is clinically extremely vulnerable?
Clinically extremely vulnerable may include the following people:
- Solid organ transplant recipients
- People with specific cancers
- People with respiratory conditions, including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD).
- People with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infection.
- Pregnant women with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
How long should clinically extremely vulnerable people shield for?
Current government guidance at the time of writing is to shield until the end of June. However, the government says it is regularly monitoring the situation.
Can I go for a walk if I’m shielding?
People who are shielding should not go out for a walk in public places. The government advises trying exercises you can do at home, spending time with the windows open to let in the fresh air and getting natural sunlight. You can use your garden or sit on your doorstep but you must keep at least two metres away from your neighbours and household members.
Can I go to hospital and GP appointments if I’m shielding?
The government guidance is that everyone should access medical assistance online or by phone where possible.
However, if you have a scheduled appointment while you are shielding, you should talk to your GP or specialist to determine which of these appointments is essential.
What if I need extra help while I am shielding?
If you need support with food or medicines while shielding, you should ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services where possible.
Everyone who has received a letter advising that they are clinically extremely vulnerable should also register online if you need extra support, such as groceries delivered to your home. You can also call a call centre on 03333050466.
NHS Volunteer Responders are also offering support by providing volunteers who can help to deliver medicines from pharmacies, drive patients to appointments, bring them home from hospital, and make regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. To get help, call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm).