To make people self-quarantine or not? What health experts say about exposure risk

  • Northwest Suburban High School District 214 is asking some students who've traveled to certain countries to self-quarantine for 14 days, and other students who've been abroad at all to inform the district of their travels.

    Northwest Suburban High School District 214 is asking some students who've traveled to certain countries to self-quarantine for 14 days, and other students who've been abroad at all to inform the district of their travels. Daily Herald file photo

  • Health experts say a self-quarantine generally is not recommended for someone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, with a few notable exceptions.

    Health experts say a self-quarantine generally is not recommended for someone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, with a few notable exceptions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP

 
 
Updated 3/4/2020 7:23 PM

With concerns over the spread of the coronavirus rising, suburban school districts and workplaces are grappling with questions about how to handle students and employees who might have been exposed to the illness.

Lake Zurich Unit District 95 officials placed no restrictions this week on two members of the district community living with a hospital worker who'd had contact with a coronavirus patient.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Northwest Suburban High School District 214 is asking some students who've traveled to certain countries -- Italy, China, Iran and South Korea -- to self-quarantine for 14 days. Other students who've been abroad at all are being asked to inform the district of their travels.

According to guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both districts acted as suggested.

Under the interim guidance, unless a person shows symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the latest coronavirus, self-quarantining is not recommended.

Exceptions to that include those who have traveled to or had stopovers in countries considered Level 3 or higher. Those countries are Italy, China, Iran and South Korea.

"Depending on your travel history, you will be asked to stay home for a period of 14 days from the time you left an area with widespread or ongoing community spread," according to the CDC.

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According to the CDC, there is no identifiable risk of contracting the coronavirus by walking past or being briefly in the same room as someone with the illness. Being in the same room for a longer period of time without close contact is considered a low risk, while living with a person sick with COVID-19 can be a medium or high risk.

Orders for quarantine and isolation are provided by local public health departments and depend on a person's exposure risk, Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Kimberly Conrad Junius said Wednesday.

People concerned about being exposed to coronavirus should contact their health care providers immediately, she said.

"If you have a medical appointment, call your health care professional and share your concern," Junius said. "This will help the health care provider's office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed. Your health care professional will work with the local health department, Illinois Department of Public Health and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19."

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said home isolation will be the preferred treatment for patients not needing more intensive medical care. Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low, according to the CDC.

"The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with health care providers and state and local health departments," the CDC states.

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