Social Distancing has changed the way we interact with each other forevermore. But it doesn’t all have to be all gloom and doom. We can still learn to build community in spite of having to manage how close we interact with each other.
So what is this social distance thing anyway?
Social distancing is a public health strategy attempting to prevent or slow the spread of an infectious pathogen like a virus. It includes any method to keep people physically separate from each other because physical proximity is how many pathogens go from one body to another. This includes isolating people who are infected, quarantining people who may have been infected, and keeping people separate from each other in general.
Social distancing is especially important for the ongoing pandemic because there is currently no vaccine to protect you against the circulating virus, otherwise known non-affectionately as SARS-CoV2. Moreover, as Tara Haelle described for Forbes on Friday, one of the goals right now is to “flatten the curve.” In this case, the curve isn’t a grading curve or a Meghan Trainor song but the graph of the number of people infected with SARS-CoV2 each day. “Flattening the curve” means slowing the spread of SARS-CoV2, so that there aren’t too many cases on a given day to overwhelm our health care system as this tweet shows:
After all, our health care system is a bit like that lovelytheband song, “broken,” and can’t handle too much of a surge in people needing medical help.
Social distancing is why so many things are being postponed or cancelled. It’s why the NBA has suspended its season and why the NCAA has decided to do this:
Even Disney Land and Disney World are shutting down as described by Ariel Shapiro for Forbes. So you won’t be able to hear “It’s a Small World” on a continuous loop at either of the Orange Counties. Instead, “it’s a small world where everyone is trying to stay away from each other after all,” is what needs to be done now.
Social distancing may mean substantially altering what you do each day. Of course, how much you have to change your life will depend on how you normally live your life. For example, just yesterday, a person relayed to me that her friend who is somewhat shy said that “this is something that I have been training for all my life.” And another person indicated, “this is an excuse to avoid all that annoying hugging stuff.”
“Social distancing is a complicated way of saying stay away from people, and the microbial residue that people might have accidentally left behind,” said Malia Jones, a social epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who studies how people’s behaviors contribute to outbreaks of infectious disease.
“Since the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread from person to person through physically close social contacts, the best approach to prevention we have right now is to keep people from being in close contact as much as possible,” she explained.
“I’ve been calling social distancing ‘cocooning’ to promote the idea that you should be at home in a safe harbor with your family,” Jones said.
It’s critical that everyone practices social distancing, not just those who are sick, Jones told Healthline. This can help vulnerable populations, like older adults, from getting the virus. Due to delays in testing and the ability for someone to have and spread COVID-19, even if they appear healthy, it’s currently impossible to know who has it.
“Social distancing is a responsibility that individuals take on to make sure they’re not the vector of disease and to break the chain of transmission,” said ​May Chu, PhD, a clinical professor in the department of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, Colorado.
“In a nutshell, stay at home except for essential errands,” Jones stated.
This goes for those who feel healthy, too. “Many cases are very mild or asymptomatic. But you can still give it to someone else even if you don’t feel sick yet,” she said.
Avoid all crowded places or events
Cancel any gatherings that involve members outside your household or “cocoon.” It’s possible that another household, such as that of immediate family, are also part of your small circle. If so, everyone in the cocoon needs to avoid social contact outside this circle and maintain a high level of personal hygiene.
Stay 3 to 6 feet away from people outside of your own family
“The recommendation is to be 3 to 6 feet away from other people, and to preferably be outside,” where transmission risk is lower, said Thomas Jaenisch, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist and associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. While 3 to 6 feet is distant enough if it’s for a minute or so, “If you’re in a closed room and have a meeting for an hour, that’s a different story” and should be avoided, Jaenisch said.
Wash your hands often for 20 seconds, and don’t share items with people outside your cocoon
“To avoid getting anything [such as the virus] that was sneezed onto a table or door handle onto your hands, and then ultimately into your mouth and nose, wash your hands often, especially before you eat and as soon as you get home from being outside,” Jones said.
Do I need to practice social distancing if I’m symptom-free?
We asked experts to clarify exactly how to practice social distancing in common scenarios to avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19. For some situations, experts have clear answers. But for others, the science isn’t yet available, so it’s responsible to err on the side of greater caution.
Overall, experts agreed the situations below were generally not essential. “All of these things, like going to the gym, riding public transportation — all of that fuels the epidemic,” Jaenisch said.
Can I schedule play dates for my kids?
“Keep your children home from school, and don’t let them mix with other kids outside your cocoon. School closures are especially important because even though children aren’t at particularly high risk for getting sick from COVID-19, they can still be carriers [and spread illness],” Jones explained.
Together, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other. Physical distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak. With patience and cooperation, we can all do our part.
What does physical distancing mean
This means making changes in your everyday routines in order to minimize close contact with others, including:
- avoiding crowded places and gatherings
- avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes
- limiting contact with people at higher risk (e.g. older adults and those in poor health)
- keeping a distance of at least 2 arms lengths (approximately 2 metres) from others, as much as possible
Here’s how you can practise physical distancing:
- greet with a wave instead of a handshake, a kiss or a hug
- stay home as much as possible, including for meals and entertainment
- grocery shop once per week
- take public transportation during off-peak hours
- conduct virtual meetings
- host virtual playdates for your kids
- use technology to keep in touch with friends and family
- use food delivery services or online shopping
- exercise at home or outside
- work from home
Note: Some people may transmit COVID-19 even though they do not show any symptoms. In situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, wearing a non-medical mask or face covering (i.e. constructed to completely cover the nose and mouth without gaping, and secured to the head by ties or ear loops) provides a barrier between your respiratory droplets and the people and surfaces around you. It may also stop you from touching your nose or mouth, which is another way the virus can get into your body.