Definition: isolation imposed to prevent spread of disease. It remains a large part of our COVID – 19 defense.


Public Health Service Quarantine Officers
Circa 1912.
Photo courtesy of National Library of Medicine

Quarantine has been a public health tool since the 14th century, when it was first employed to fight transmission of plague. In the early 20th century, quarantine was carried out on a massive scale and later was employed selectively to control the spread of diseases like polio, tuberculosis, measles, and the flu. This method of controlling the spread of communicable disease had been virtually forgotten for half a century because of more effective treatment and prevention protocols. In the 21st century, a new infectious disease—COVID-19—is causing a re-introduction of this method.

Quarantine is a state or place of isolation in which people who have been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed for a duration equal to the incubation period of the infectious agent.

The decision to quarantine depends on the severity of the disease and how likely it is to spread. This is influenced by the number of people infected and the ease of transmission. In the case of the COVID-19 novel virus, both criteria are met. Added to this, there is no targeted treatment for the disease. There are only supportive measures, including convalescent antibodies to control the effects of the disease while the body marshals its own infection-fighting resources.

After nearly seven months away from my apartment, I returned home and faced the need to quarantine for fourteen days. The first thing to accept was this was necessary for my own well-being and for the protection of my family and neighbors. Resigned to being alone, I had to find a way to keep busy. Books, a computer with access to the internet, TV replete with cable channels, and a phone promised the opportunity for productive work, entertainment, and companionship.

In my case, quarantine compliance was self-imposed. I signed in, had my temperature checked, and went to my apartment with the resolve to remain there for fourteen days. Nobody checked me in or out. I was on the honor system, subject only to the judgment of others if they saw me and knew I was in violation. At the end, there was no roll of drums or official acknowledgment of status change. I joined, maintained, and left quarantine on my own.

In addition to the many ways to keep busy already mentioned, I spent a day organizing a catch-all closet in my office. I also found time to iron a few shirts that were almost wash-and-wear. Completing these “put off” tasks was a plus from my time in quarantine. The lunch and dinner delivered to my door—when I remembered to order on time—were welcome.

For the times when I forgot to call ahead, I had my daughter’s frozen soup, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread on hand.

I remember the introduction of the measles vaccine and how important it was to the elimination of this disease. It had a special impact on my own experience as a pediatric eye surgeon because it wiped out measles cataracts in newborns, which was caused when expectant mothers had developed even a mild case during their pregnancy. This was an almost miraculous secondary result from safe, successful, mass vaccination.

I hope the soon-to-be-available COVID- 19 vaccination is as effective and makes our experiences with quarantine another subject for the history books.

By Savvy Senior

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1 thought on “Quarantine

  1. Thank you for writing this. Could be that more needs to be written to encourage such voluntary actions to encourage care and concern about the entire community. And yes, it is difficult not to be with our family and friends, not to come and go as we wish. Yet which of us would wish to live with the knowledge we helped to spread this virus.

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