Schools are going virtual, companies are telling employees to work remotely and people are staying home. The coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic on March 11, means we’ll all be spending way more time inside.

The rapid spread of the virus means more of us will choose — or be forced to — minimize our time outside of home with a quarantine or extreme social distancing. As the CDC explains, “The virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person to person.” As officials address the public health emergency, social distancing and self-quarantine measures are encouraged to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus cases and as experts call it, “flatten the curve.” 

What’s the difference between quarantine, isolation and social distancing?

Social distancing, isolation and quarantine each have different goals, but all of these protocols are designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease that results from the novel coronavirus, and other communicable diseases. 

Here’s what each term means, according to US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC: 

Social distancing: Social distancing is used to limit close interactions among people. You can see this happening as conferences are canceled, gatherings are limited, and schools shut down. Individuals may also choose to distance themselves by avoiding public transportation or choosing to work remotely. Other social distancing practices include avoiding handshakes and remaining more than three feet from other people. 

Quarantine: To be quarantined (or self-quarantined) is when a person who is well — not sick or exhibiting symptoms — separates themselves or drastically restricts their movement. It’s used when a person has come in contact (or is suspected to have done so) with an infected person and needs to monitor their symptoms. Quarantine is also used with individuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and need to limit their exposure to potentially ill people. 

Isolation: Isolation is used when a person that’s ill or displaying presumptive coronavirus symptoms is separated from those who are healthy to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In some cases, people might be isolated in a hospital, while those with manageable symptoms are isolated at home.

Who should follow these protocols?

Many US cities are already exercising social distancing protocols and declaring the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency, enabling health officials to implement measures that protect the public.

But the question many people are asking is: Should I self-quarantine to prevent exposure to the coronavirus? 

The CDC advises all people over the age of 60 as well as the immunocompromised to practice strict social distancing and suggests they “stay home as much as possible.” Even still, individuals (like me) who are immunocompromised may choose to self-quarantine or practice some kind of hybrid of social distancing and quarantine while the virus takes hold in their communities. 

However, we may all find ourselves in some version of a quarantine or extreme social distancing. 

How to prepare for a coronavirus quarantine

There’s a lot more to preparing for a coronavirus quarantine than hoarding toilet paper and bottled water. Drawing from the advice of the CDC, HHS, World Health Organization and other experts, this quarantine checklist will get you and your family prepared for spending a lot of time at home. 

Note that we aren’t providing exact quantities — that’ll vary depending on the size of your family. Quantities will also be influenced by how much quarantine time you want to be ready for (two weeks is a good minimum, but one month is better).

Finally, note that hoarding and preparation are two very different things — we’re not advocating for emptying Costco’s shelves of toilet paper and those delicious little potstickers. The recommendation is to get enough necessary supplies for a potential quarantine.

1. Stock up on these items (but don’t hoard)

Many of us who work an eight-hour workday spend at least that much time outside of our homes. And during that time, we’re relying on our employers or other businesses for essentials like toilet paper and meals. 

After you’ve determined the amount of quarantine time you want to prepare for, grab the appropriate quantity of these items, as outlined by Ready.gov. This is certainly not an exhaustive list — your needs will vary depending on the things you rely on every day.

Bath and hygiene

  • 30-day supply of medication, including over-the-counter pain relievers, cough and     cold medicine and electrolytes
  • Toilet paper (which you’ll use more of while being at home full-time)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Hand soap (no, you don’t really need hand sanitizer)
  • Laundry detergent (ideally the concentrated kind, which lasts longer)
  • Diapers, formula, baby wipes and other infant needs
  • Body wash, shampoo, conditioner and skincare needs
  • Hand soap and cleaning supplies

Food and kitchen

There is no definitive list of food items, but there are some food items that work better than others. You might also want to audit your kitchen toolkit, in case you find yourself prepping more meals from scratch while stuck indoors. 


  • Dried beans, rice and other grains, like oatmeal
  • Canned fish, soup and stews
  • Essentials like oil, salt and pepper 
  • Smoothie blends and protein powder 
  • Coffee and tea
  • Snacks that have a longer shelf life, like dried fruit and nuts
  • Cured meats


  • Meat and poultry (ideally vacuum-sealed), like chicken, beef and pork 
  • Avoid fish, which can spoil if not properly frozen
  • Vegetables and fruit 


  • Pet food (and treats!)
  • All-purpose cleaning spray (here’s the EPA’s list of COVID-19-fighting products)
  • A water filter (or filter replacement) 
  • Dish soap and sponges
  • Paper towels 
  • Now’s a really good time to get to know your Instant Pot 
  • Be sure you have a reliable thermometer

2. Get a better work-from-home setup

If you’re lucky enough to continue working remotely during the outbreak, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need to work effectively. Forbes.com compiled this helpful list of work-from-home essentials. Also consider some of these best practices, based on my experience working remotely so far:

Get dressed and ready for work each day. Doing so will get you into a productive mindset help you look presentable on video conferences and maintain some kind of routine.

Avoid housework. This is a tough one, but working from home doesn’t mean doing the laundry, washing the dishes and cleaning up throughout the day. To avoid any housework, make sure to clean up before you start the day or before bed. 

Coordinate meeting schedules. If you’re quarantined with someone else working remotely, you’ll want to coordinate meetings so that you’re not disrupting each other. Simply share calendars or connect briefly before the day begins. If you each have an office or designated area, this wouldn’t apply to you. 

Take breaks and stop working. The hardest thing about working from home is setting boundaries. Be sure to schedule breaks when you can stretch, do an at-home workout, or eat. Also make sure you’re “clocking out” at some point and putting your laptop away for the day. This will help you stay sane while working from home.

3. Change your routine

Losing your routine and being stuck indoors can put a strain on one’s mental health. Here are some things to plan ahead for. 

Medical appointments: If you need medical support that doesn’t require immediate admittance, get to know your insurance provider’s telemedicine — or video appointment — services. For instance, my insurance provider supports Doctor on Demand visits for a $10 co-pay. Depending on you or your family members’ needs, the physician can prescribe medications, which you can often choose to have delivered. 

Exercise: You don’t need a Peloton to work out at home. Plenty of YouTube channels offer free workout videos and workout apps get you an experience on par with an in-studio class. If you’re feeling ambitious, you might even consider creating a DIY Peloton. Here’s our complete guide to working out at home. 

Keep your spirits up. As the outbreak spreads and the death toll increases, many people may find themselves deeply worried — or even panicked. During these times, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Amanda Capritto spoke to a psychotherapist who offered some practical tips for staying sane during the outbreak. 

What to do when you leave the house

If you’re participating in a quarantine or self-quarantine that doesn’t forbid you from leaving the house, there may be occasions when you’ll go out into the world, such as to get groceries or visit a family member. When you do, follow these tips for avoiding exposure to COVID-19 and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and often. 

When you return home — or in the event someone visits your home — be sure to sanitize your house. This means using disinfecting products to wipe down frequently used surfaces, including countertops, doorknobs, faucets and tables. Many retailers are currently sold out of disinfecting products, like Lysol, online and in stores. So, here are some alternatives to wipes and sprays.

A word on face masks

Though the initial response to the novel coronavirus in the US was to go out and buy face masks, health officials have since asked the public to stop buying them, unless someone is sick and needs to reduce the chances of transmitting COVID-19 to others. So, no, you don’t need to stock up on face masks — save them for healthcare workers and those who are ill.

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

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