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What’s the difference between social distancing and isolating?


Can anyone provide clarity about the difference between ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolating’ and which we are meant to do?

46 Replies

Social distancing = minimal contact/leaving of house. Can go out for essentials, walks etc

Isolation = no contact/leaving of house. Don’t leave. Things left on doorsteps etc

(At least this is my understanding of it)

in reply to EmmaF91


I am constantly asking myself this question too. I think we are officially advised to do the social distancing, but I don't understand how that works if there are others in the house who are still going out. Should my husband be doing the same thing? Should we be in the same room as each other? I have no idea and it is very very worrying. My husband is still going out to shops etc. We are running low on antibacterial spray to spray everything. Should I be spraying everything he touches? Sorry, I haven't answered your question!

I think we have to do what we feel comfortable with. I feel I am moving towards the self isolation (staying home altogether) idea, and try and persuade my husband to do likewise. No idea how we will get shopping etc though. Online delivery is like gold dust. I managed to get a slot with Asda yesterday but the website was obviously so overloaded that my payment didn't go through and the order didnt' work. I was on hold for over an hour to their helpline and then got cut off.

What is your situation Calmcat?

The official advice is to keep a distance of 2m. I think as long as your husband washes his hands as soon as he comes home you will be ok. If he has been near anyone who has sneezed or had a cough, band his clothes in the washer and shove him in the bath.

Ideally, it would be good if he could work from home, but that is not always possible.

There are other measures you would need to take if he is showing symptoms or thinks he has come into contact with someone who has it.

I also think it depends where in the country you are, that’s a personal opinion.

For instance London has hundreds of cases. Now remember, these are people who have needed medical assistance, so the number of cases will be greater than that.

Where I am, only 3 cases have needed medical assistance in the whole of the county, so the risk here is lower than in London.

Do whatever it takes to put your mind at rest.

Thanks Troilus. I think you are right about geography, for now at least. My husband already works from home, so that is good. We are in a small seaside town in the South East. So the London 'spread' will be inevitable I fear, from commuters etc.

There is rumour on the news that the government are going to announce a lock down for London. They are worried that so many people are ignoring advice and that some pubs and bars are still packed.

If that is true, it will be good news for you.

Press conference at 11.30

Let's hope the government starts to see sense.

No announcements regarding lockdown. I had a quick google and reports are saying there's 'zero' chance of London going into Lockdown. Hmmmm.

Yes. I heard that too. Sorry for misleading you. I thought if it was on the BBC it must be right. Just goes to show.

No worries, it's not your fault 😊 It would have been useful though. I still don't understand why we are not following the same pattern as the rest of Europe, and Ireland. But there you go.

Hi Recorder Girl

Thanks for replying- I guess we have to do as much as we practically can to protect ourselves. I’ve moved towards social isolating now - husband has started working from home. Husband goes to the shop and tries not to touch things etc. I don’t have enough antibacterial spray for spraying everything he brings back so it is a worry given they don’t know how long the virus can survive on different surfaces or how many virus particles are needed before you get sick. The good news is touching a surface then touching your face is not thought to be the main way it’s transmitted

(BBC source)


I’m currently in a flare up and have been on prednisone for three weeks. Had my first A&E experience last Monday- was eventually let home on condition I attended Emergency Assessment Unit the following day- again threatened to keep me in but eventually changed their minds. Prior to this i have only been on 5 day prednisone courses (although creeping up to 3 or 4 times a year). I don’t know if that means I’m now classed as a high risk severe asthmatic- to do isolating - or just an at risk group- to do social distancing (essential contact e.g. working and shopping allowed). I’m signed off sick at the moment but worried that when my flare up subsided my work might try and force me to come in

I don't think they can force you, unless you can do the social distancing thing within the work setting. If you can keep 2m apart from everyone else then I suppose they might have a case. But as long as the govt advice is for us to take 'stringent measures' then I think you have a strong case to stay at home. I am hoping so for me too, as there's no way I could keep 2m apart from kids at school. I'm thinking I am not in the top category as I am like you, I have prednisolone courses once or twice a year. This is the first time I have had two back to back in over 20 years. But I think the top risk are people who are regularly hospitalised for asthma etc, and I am not one of them.

Yes it’s so hard to know where we stand. You definitely couldn’t keep 2m away with kids in school. Hopefully they won’t pressurise you - they might not need so many teachers with the partial school closures? Fingers crossed 🤞

Hi there, my school sent a survey yesterday evening , the idea was to find out who was still available to look after the children who are still going to school for the next two weeks.......it took me hours to reply, I'm in turmoil, I'm social distancing, so can I go in and go admin jobs? Man the phone for example, print stuff for others to use? Cleaning?? I like cleaning.....😋 I know I don't want to be within 2m of others, I'm going to say especially children, they don't understand the boundaries with that.....so I can't actually help with supervising children........I just didn't know what to do.....in the end, I filled it in saying I would be available for work at my own school as long as I could safely practice social distancing.......hope I did the right thing! I'm going to call my head of school today to clarify.....🤞

I don’t think you should. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to stay away. Govt advice is for us to do stringent social distancing- can you really get a guarantee that you could do that safely? Touching stuff others had touched etc...

Oooh, I'm worried now again......why do we feel so beholden to be at work, even when we shouldn't!!@

Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel worse! Teachers are so beholden - how often have we struggled in with illnesses when we shouldn’t have? But this is different. This is far more serious. I would think very carefully about it before you offer to do something that you might not want to do. I am struggling too but am determined to put my health (and life!) before school. There’s a first time for everything!

The thing is, I have offered to go...if I can practice social distancing properly......but I'm not comfortable with it! I'm going to call my head teacher....shes very sensible older lady.....and talk to her, and don't worry Recordergirl.....I have been in a constant state of just being worried about everything! 😊 I feel like I dont know you, but I found a kindred spirit.....please dont be sorry😊

😊😊 I know! If you have a sensible head teacher you should be able to retract your offer if you want to, give all your reasons. My head is a bit more unpredictable so am worried a lot. I’m just going to keep quoting govt guidelines at her. Good luck!!


I am in a similar position although I am a teaching assistant

I have offered to “ listen” to readers via Skype ( don’t know if that will be possible) and also said I would go in to isolated classroom and do things like photocopying/laminating but am even having second thoughts about that as we don’t know how long the virus lives on surfaces

My second job is as a 1:1 carer but I really feel that as I can’t “socially distance” myself from him as I provide intimate care so going there is not possible either - some clear guidance from government would definitely be helpful and would help our employers understand too.

I think we are finding it particularly difficult to deal with this as by nature we are considerate and caring or wouldn’t have gone into these types of jobs - putting yourself first seems strange, so I am trying to think of it in terms of putting my ( young adult )children first. At home we are keeping a strict 2 m away rule and largely living separate lives.

Any other thoughts to help me reach a decision are definitely welcome

Hi, it’s so hard. I think we have to quite government guidelines and stand firm. It’s against my nature totally but I’m going to try my best to do it. My GP has told me to stay away as long as asthma is on the list (I’m not in the ‘severe’ category). I don’t have it in writing but I’m going to keep quoting that at them for as long as possible. How are you dealing with cooking meals at home? Are you cooking/eating separately?

Yes we are largely- or one of us will cook and then a lot of hand washing!

As schools are closing today sadly for them they are going to be largely isolating too- just essential food/meds shopping and looking in on v elderly grandparents- again staying 2 m away

I live in an area with few confirmed cases so I think there is the belief that I am being paranoid and I have even had someone say to me “ you don’t do this during normal flu season “ well guess what? It isn’t normal flu

However as the cases rise it may become easier to justify our position. It is not skiving, it is not an extra holiday, it is a very worrying, lonely, sad time and how I wish I could go in and life was back to normal x

Me too. So worried that there’s an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude among so many. I’m in a small town but London is only an hour away.

I agree with you completely EloiseChloe! I definitely don't want to go in.....but I've been off sick for weeks in just this term due to my chest completely deciding it's not going to cooperate! I don't have a diagnosis as yet, having had so many antibiotics that there hasn't been enough space between them to get a spirometry done.....which lead to even my own gp saying, its fine, you don't have a diagnosis!! Even though hes been telling me for around two months that he thinks my chest problems are due to asthma and or bronchitis or something similar! Had at least one infection in this time and pluracy......So I've had to take things in hand myself, couldn't get an appointment with the asthma nurse...shes self isolating, I ended up calling asthma UK and speaking to a nurse who said, common sense must prevail, if you need steroid inhalers and ventolin, you have a chest complaint that is not well controlled, be it asthma or something else....stay at social distancing, and if the government says isolate yourself if you're vulnerable, do it! I just don't know if school will accept this.....that's my worry, I've already had to deal with a business manager at school who simply didn't believe I should have been off for six weeks because I had uncontrollable coughing all the time, and was so breathless I couldn't walk up my stairs without needing a sit down! It was only when I got the preventer inhaler that I started to recover enough to go to work at all.......I mean, I guess, if I get a disciplinary after all this....so be it.....what I'm really saying I guess, is that if doesn't feel safe to go out.....but I don't want to have more problems at work due to some people thinking I shouldn't be off again.......why do I even care?? Goodness only knows.....

Sorry about long rant.....nobody else here at home that understands x

So sorry to hear that you are struggling- until you can’t breathe and feel like you are drowning I don’t believe that anyone can understand. Re work- I have just had the same ( ( long distance!) conversation with my daughter- worse case scenario is I have a disciplinary meeting- can you imagine how that would go?

“ So you are asking me to come to work when you can’t guarantee that I will be kept safe and are asking me to go against government guidelines?”

Even if I lost there are other jobs out there and I have to put my health first- if the worst happened and I was seriously ill then work would be the last thing on my mind.

Hopefully people will use common sense regarding employment but we will see.

Hope you feel better soon

Thank you, relatively speaking I am quite well at the moment....or what is currently passing for being 'well' hahaha! Yes I was just thinking.....imagine that meeting🤔....my head us going to call me back, I'll put her in the picture and see what she says....after all, we may soon be getting told to isolate for 12 weeks! Then I definitely won't be going in regardless....🤔

Maybe a change of career isn't a bad idea.........not the worst thing that can happen certainly!😊

My thoughts exactly! My school haven’t been tricky with me - yet. But I’m going to keep quoting guidelines at them for as long as I can.

So I had that chat with my head.....I'm more confused than ever, I wish I hadn't bothered ....she obviously didn't have time to talk really (understandable) but basically seemed to be alternating between, "So, you're coming in then?" And....."But you went home, so what was the point, if you're coming in?"....and "So, if you come in, we've got you put you in an empty classroom?"....anyway she cut me short because her other phone rang and it was urgent. I've got to make up my mind......and stick with my decision......🤔 I sort of think it won't matter as much for the next couple of weeks.....nobody is sure where we will be in a month .....but these decisions to distance socially ( can we call it that??) Will become much more complicated if we get the other side of Easter....and we're still not being told categorically to isolate ourselves??🤔

I get your feelings completely. How can they possibly do a disciplinary?? If government is saying everyone with asthma must practice stringent social distancing they wouldn’t have a case, would they? They cannot guarantee our safety? Children move at will, cough at will, touch things at will....

Keep ranting if you need to😊😊😊😊

Thank you.....I think my problem to some degree, is the lack of an actual diagnosis.........I mean, I've been off for six weeks! You'd think its obvious that I need to protect myself .....I'm beginning to think I don't really care about disciplinary .....the world is changing so fast, nothing will be the same afterward...maybe not a bad thing........😳

in reply to Soniabrown

I saw a head teacher on BBC this morning and he was saying that his staff who fell into the vulnerable group were now going to self isolate. He was very pragmatic about as several schools were going to club their resources together and may even work out of one location. So if you're considered vulnerable due to your health you shouldn't feel pressurised into working.

in reply to Poobah

Thank you, that sounds like someone using common sense!

It certainly does. I think you need to tell your headteacher that because you are having these lung problems and because of the asthma medication you are taking, you feel you need to follow the guidelines set down by the goverment to do stringent social distancing. I think they won't tell us to self isolate - yet, they've made their categories and are now working on different stuff for a while (like the whole school debacle!!) so I think we have to got with that. I have a friend who works as a school advisor and they are going into the office on a rota basis, and those with asthma have not been included in the rota, but told to always work from home.

I suppose we can think of that no headteacher is going to want the potential death of an employee on their conscience because they forced someone in a vulnerable group to come to work. That sounds drastic, but I think it is true. Hope you're ok.

Yes I'm okay, I've emailed HR for clarification ...but in the meantime my head has emailed whole staff saying those not isolating/social distance are to go in on Monday, when a rota of staff will be sorted, all others will get a list of jobs to do from home. So, question answered, I'm expected to work from home.....phew!😊I feel so relieved!

Thank goodness! What a relief for you! And breathe (wheeze!)

And no, I don't think its drastic at all, in fact, at this moment I feel like those of us under 70, with the health issues, are the ones taking this seriously enough!

I just went out for a walk, round the block (boring, but my legs got a chance to move), touched absolutely nothing, saw two others, kept away from them by at least two meters, etc, etc, didn’t chat as I have no idea who they were. I was out for 10-12 minutes. To me it seems that can fit into isolating. And I am lucky I live somewhere I can do that. My husband does shopping, as little as possible, washes his hands the minute he comes back, has finally ‘learned’ to use contactless, so he can pay without touching their apparatus, keeps his distance etc. That is not quite fully isolating, but would be hard to manage without getting occasionally to a shop or pharmacy. Like others online ordering is a rare commodity.

I don’t have any antibacterial spray, by the time I even thought of it it was too late, but given that soap is the most effective substance, I can mix some washing up liquid in a finished bottle with spray mechanism, mix with water, spray and wipe with a clean cloth.

Mind you, we also, so far, live in a low affected area, but it could change.

in reply to Wheezycat

Good idea about the soap in a spray bottle- might use that to spray the shopping

in reply to Calmcat

You see.....I haven't been cleaning my shopping....I've tried to buy things in packaging that can be thrown away.....but if people are wiping down the bean tins I better up my game!.....oh God......this is appalling isn't it....😔

I'm hoping for some more clarity on this because I have seen conflicting advice eg if isolating you can take a dog for a walk if you stay away from everyone vs you can't go out at all.

All the isolation advice currently seems to be based on people with symptoms or contact so not longer than 14 days. I would like to think that if it is for much longer and for our protection ie not symptomatic that they would say a walk outside keeping well away from others might be ok. I am luckier than others but also have no outside space/garden at all.

In Scotland they are concerned about the effect of strict isolation and inactivity on elderly people so I think are trying to go for a slightly less full on version, allowing a bit of time outside if you stay well away from others.

Consistent guidance would be nice! But admit I would like to occasionally be able to get outside even if I don't go near anyone.

I think there's a difference between isolation for precaution and isolation for symptoms. My understanding is that isolation for 12 weeks can include going out e.g. to quiet places but really trying not to mix with others. Isolation for symptoms is to avoid any contact outside home where possible.

For now anyway.

Yes I thought the same but everything is so unclear I find!!

I agree! I think in these uncertain times we need to be 'told' rather than 'advised'. A bit like children needing boundaries! If it has been raining hard the day before, I will say to the children at school 'you must not go on the field as it is too muddy'. I don't say "I urge you not to, or I advise you not to..." They wouldn't know what decision to make. They need the clarity. We the population are the children, and the government is the teacher/parent. Just my thoughts as I am ruminating at home!

Someone’s probably said it but asthma yo and have defined it beautifully 👍

I looked at the global stats yesterday and calculated the % deaths per country. Interesting that Germany has over 8,000 known cases but only 0.3% deaths compared to our 3,000 with 5% deaths. I have been told by my work (NHS) that because I have asthma I need to self isolate for 12 weeks and having checked my food cupboards yesterday, am sure I can survive for a number of weeks without shopping. Given the stats, I am defo going to avoid contact with anyone.

The Irish health department has very clear information. www2.hse.ie/conditions/coro...

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