Coronavirus news is coming in hot and heavy lately, with confirmed infection rates skyrocketing in the U.S. and around the globe. Entire countries are under quarantine, borders are closing, and hospitals are running out of beds. And yet, we keep hearing stories of folks breaking quarantine like there isn't a global emergency going on around them.
A father, whose older daughter tested positive for COVID-19, broke quarantine in Missouri to attend a father-daughter dance with a younger daughter. Health officials recommended the family self-quarantine because the older daughter had just returned from Italy and was showing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus infection. The older daughter went to the hospital Friday and tested positive Saturday—the same day her father and younger sister broke quarantine to attend the school dance. Though the father said he was not aware of the positive test results at the time he disregarded his quarantine recommendation, he was aware that his older daughter had potentially been exposed when she was overseas.
New Hampshire's first positive case also broke quarantine recommendations to attend an event at Dartmouth. And it's probably safe to assume that these aren't the only instances of people not following suggested quarantine procedures—these are just the ones we've heard about.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization recommend self-quarantine, or self-isolation, for people who have been exposed but aren't showing symptoms, as well as for those who are showing symptoms but aren't in immediate danger or in need of hospitalization. The recommended length of quarantine is 14 days. After 14 days, the incubation period of the virus is over and if you haven't shown symptoms, you can go about your merry way.
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By breaking quarantine, however, even if you aren't showing symptoms, you can still transmit the virus to anyone you encounter during your foray from the safety of your own home. Older adults and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk than healthy children and adults, so those who break quarantine run the risk of passing the virus to at-risk populations and not only further spreading the disease, but literally putting people in mortal danger.
Since many Americans don't have paid sick leave, self-quarantine can be a big ask. No work equals no paycheck, which could leave a number of people in dire financial straits. But, both republicans and democrats are discussing plans to provide financial relief to workers impacted by the spread of COVID-19. As yet nothing has been finalized, but discussions include paid sick time for anyone impacted by quarantine procedures or medical treatment related to coronavirus and a decrease in payroll taxes.
Despite the financial implications for many workers, it's imperative that people stay home if they've been exposed. Going to huge events, or even small events, is inviting trouble not only for at-risk populations but also for, well, everyone. Self-isolation is an effective way to slow the spread of the virus and throwing caution to the wind and heading out despite quarantine recommendations is not only dangerous, but risks advancing the spread of the virus to a point where it can't be slowed.
But it's not just about slowing the spread of the virus. Breaking quarantine to attend the father-daughter dance resulted in the closure of not just the school where the dance was held, but also a second school whose students attended the dance. That means hundreds of parents had to scramble to find care or miss work themselves to watch kids who would've otherwise been in class. In New Hampshire, several people who came into contact with the infected patient were then quarantined themselves, missing work and potentially infecting others.
Ignoring quarantine requests doesn't just put the population at risk for the spread of the virus, it can have immediate and potentially devastating financial impacts on anyone who comes into contact with you. It's not just dangerous, it's selfish and short-sighted. So if a health professional asks you to quarantine either while you're waiting for test results or after a confirmed positive result of the virus, please, for the love of everything, just stay home.