Social distancing: Why it's so important in helping prevent the spread of coronavirus
With the coronavirus spreading in the United States and with its impact already making a big difference in all of our day to day lives, it’s normal to have a lot of questions about what measures you can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 can spread easily among individuals who are not even showing symptoms of the disease, and the coronavirus is expected to spread throughout the U.S. So one of the most important things you can do at this time is participate in social distancing.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing is a practice that essentially means distancing yourself from other people as much as possible. If everyone in your immediate family or everyone you live with is healthy, this doesn’t mean that you need to distance yourself from them. But it does mean you need to seriously limit your interactions with people outside of your home.
If you live in a community where the coronavirus is spreading, which includes many areas of the U.S., it’s actually advised that you stay home as much as possible to prevent picking up COVID-19 or spreading it throughout your community.
If you have to go out in public for absolutely essential reasons, you should take caution when you do. This means keeping your distance from people in public places — at least 6 feet away — and avoiding crowds.
This also means that right now you should limit errands — like visiting the grocery store for food or the pharmacy for medicine — to only those that are essential and go less frequently than normal and ideally at off-hours. And when you do go out, remember to wipe down shopping cart handles with sanitizer wipes, avoid high-touch areas like elevator buttons or railings, don’t touch your face, and wash or use hand sanitizer to clean your hands afterwards.
You should also be limiting any non-essential reasons you might need to leave your home. This means working from home if at all possible. It also means not getting together with extended family or friends who live outside your home. So no visiting grandparents, no get-togethers with friends, and no playdates for kiddos. Further, it means making the proactive choice to not go to that exercise class or social gathering you’d normally attend even if it hasn’t been cancelled yet — and maybe even reaching out and asking organizers to move the event online or cancel it. And if you have to cancel larger plans, cancel plans, as hard as it may be. This includes reconsidering any non-essential travel.
Many federal and local authorities are taking steps to enforce or encourage social distancing. On March 16, 2020, the White House and CDC advised avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. Across the U.S. — and maybe even in your community — many schools are canceled for an extended period. Many businesses have also started to let employees work from home or stopped operating altogether, and many small events have been canceled to further prevent community spread. There have even been recent shelter-in-place orders in some communities that call for all people to remain at home.
We realize that changing your behavior in this way may feel like an extreme step and is challenging in many ways, but social distancing is an incredibly powerful tool that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many people who get COVID-19 won’t get very sick, but it can have serious complications and even cause death for older people and vulnerable individuals with underlying health conditions, including some pregnant women. Your actions to prevent the spread of this disease may save the life of a friend or family member who is at high risk, even if it doesn’t save your own life.
We recommend that you follow along with CDC updates, updates from your state’s health authorities, and your city or town’s local alerts. This way you can stay abreast of national and local developments, any restrictions in your area, and other important information that may impact you.
For further reading on social distancing, we recommend:
Updated March 19, 2020
- Allison Aubrey and Maria Godoy. “It’s Time To Get Serious About Social Distancing. Here's How.” NPR. NPR, March 17 2020. Retrieved March 17 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/17/817251610/its-time-to-get-serious-about-social-distancing-here-s-how.
- Asaf Bitton. “Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day.” Medium: Coronavirus. Medium, March 13 2020. Retrieved March 17 2020. https://medium.com/@ariadnelabs/social-distancing-this-is-not-a-snow-day-ac21d7fa78b4.
- Kenneth McIntosh. “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” UpToDate. UpToDate, Inc., March 16 2020. Retrieved March 16 2020. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
- “Coronavirus.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 12 2020. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus.
- “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 12 2020. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
- “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 12 2020. Retrieved March 12 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
- “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation Summary.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 15 2020. Retrieved March 16 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html.
- “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Schools, Workplaces & Community Locations.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 15 2020. Retrieved March 16 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html.
- “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” coronavirus.gov. coronavirus.gov, March 16 2020. Retrieved March 17 2020. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.16.20_coronavirus-guidance_8.5x11_315PM.pdf.
- “Get Your Household Ready for Coronavirus Disease 2019: Interim Guidance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 5 2020. Retrieved March 11 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/home/get-your-household-ready-for-COVID-19.html.
- “People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 10 2020. Retrieved March 11 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/high-risk-complications.html.
- “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, March 9 2020. Retrieved March 12 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses.
- “Steps to Prevent Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 10 2020. Retrieved March 11 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html.
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