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Isolation, quarantine & the law

By Guest Columnist Nathan Gregory

Knowing the difference between quarantining and isolating is critical in preventing the spread of Covid-19. In mid-June, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) reported the Covid-19 case total exceeded 20,000, with more than 900 deaths. Rising along with those numbers is the seven-day average of cases by date when the patients became sick. MSDH data indicated an average of around 300 cases per day through the first half of June compared to approximately 250 daily at the beginning of May. Mississippi State University Extension health specialist David Buys says the most important message to take from any data maps and charts is to continue practicing social distancing as much as possible, while following all health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Buys says isolation is required for those who test positive for Covid-19 and are known to be contagious, while quarantine is recommended for those who have possibly been exposed to the virus. “Isolation is pretty cut-and-dried," he explains. "It means to separate from people who are not sick according to the orders of a health care provider or the local public health authority. A quarantine separates people who were exposed to a contagious disease from others during the time when they could become sick from that exposure. It is important for those in quarantine to monitor for symptoms and contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms.” People who discover they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus should contact their health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Those who know they have the virus and are not isolating themselves at home are actually breaking state law in addition to putting their communities at risk. “Some folks in quarantine are given stricter guidance than others, depending on the nature of their condition and the contact they have with others as well as their job,” Buys adds. “Ideally, those who are in quarantine should limit their activity as much as possible and strictly follow what they are told by their health care provider or MSDH.” Buys notes that sometimes MSDH is delayed in issuing isolation orders until a few days after a patient is diagnosed by a local health care professional. This also delays contact tracing. “It is essential to follow the guidance of your local provider, even if you have not heard from MSDH with official orders to isolate or quarantine,” he says. The CDC advises the use of face coverings to slow the spread of the disease, especially in high-traffic indoor areas such as grocery stores and restaurants. But those who have tested positive are urged not to leave their homes for two weeks after the onset of symptoms, even if wearing face coverings. “Our state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, is authorized under state code to issue orders which are legally binding ordinances that protect the public’s health or safety,” Buys says. “They may be general, such as we’ve seen with orders for certain health professions to limit services during this Covid-19 pandemic; and they may be issued to individuals who have tested positive for a communicable disease like Covid-19. In any case, these are enforceable by law.” Will Evans, head of the MSU Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, says anyone living with a person who has tested positive must wear a face covering at home to avoid contracting the coronavirus. While caring for someone with the coronavirus, Evans recommends using the same safety practices as required for safe food preparation, including cleaning kitchen and bathroom surfaces with an approved disinfecting wipe after each use by anyone in the family. “Everyone should wash hands before and after contacting any foods, containers and surfaces,” he said. “Use hand sanitizer liberally and isolate in another room where possible.” For more Covid-19 information and prevention tips, visit


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