What is the difference between “social distancing,” “shelter in place,” “stay at home,” “quarantine,” and “isolation?” You hear all of these terms on the news and in conversations you’re having with friends and family. But it can be hard to know what each of them mean.

We have outlined here what each term means. Please note that any local or federal mandate of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” may mean different things. We recommend reaching out to local officials in your community to learn more. 

Social Distancing

Social distancing aims to reduce the number of interactions between people while allowing them to carry out their necessary day-to-day activities. Social distancing helps reduce face-to-face contact and the spread of germs. If you have to go out in public, stay six feet away from others.

Shelter in Place/Stay at Home

Shelter in place and stay at home mean the same thing. If you are sheltering in place, it means you are staying home and not going out unless you need groceries, medications, or other essentials, or are considered “essential” and have to go to work.

Can I go outside during a shelter in place or stay at home order?

Rules and regulations regarding each state’s specific mandate vary. Please consult with local law officials for more detailed information.


Quarantine means that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Quarantine should last for 14 days from the first exposure. During quarantine, you should monitor your health and symptoms of the coronavirus. You should also wash your hands regularly, stay in separate living quarters from others in your home, if possible; keep six feet away from other people, and have food and necessities delivered.


Isolation means that you are exhibiting symptoms of or have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Being in isolation prevents you from getting others around you sick. When you are in isolation, you should live in a separate area in the home, if possible, and use a different bathroom. You should keep at least six feet away from others and wear a face mask around other people. Wash your hands regularly, have food and other necessities delivered, and wash frequently touched surfaces—such as doorknobs, cell phones, bedding, towels, and clothing—frequently. It is also recommended that you use separate utensils and dishes from others in the home.

For more information regarding social distancing, sheltering in place, quarantining, and isolation, please reference the following resources:

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The World Health Organization (WHO)

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