The concept of “social distancing” is not new. Public health officials have been using this method of slowing down the spread of highly contagious disease as far back as the influenza outbreak of 1918, when parades were cancelled, schools closed and rush hour was staggered. Social distancing is not about your personal risk of getting sick, but about the risk of the disease spreading in the population and avoiding a strain on the healthcare system. Here are some common questions to help you know what you can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing is the term applied to actions taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. This includes limiting large groups of people from coming together, closing buildings and canceling events. Since COVID-19 has a long incubation period before symptoms are apparent, social distancing will help prevent people, who may be sick but don’t know it yet, from infecting others in the community.
How is social distancing different from quarantine or isolation?
Quarantine is a restriction on people who have been exposed to an infectious disease to see if they become sick. It lasts long enough to ensure the person has not contracted an illness. You may be in home quarantine with others in your family if you all traveled to Italy together but have not experienced any symptoms.
Isolation, on the other hand, prevents the spread of a contagious disease by separating people who are sick from those who are not. It lasts as long as the disease is contagious. If you were to be admitted to the hospital after being tested for COVID-19, you would be placed in isolation, in a room by yourself with no contact with other patients.
How should I practice social distancing?
Only going out when necessary is the best way to practice social distancing. That’s means skipping social gatherings; ordering takeout, instead of dining in a restaurant; working from home if you have a job that allows it. For instance, if you need to go to the supermarket, make a list of the items you need and shop during a time when it is less crowded. Go in, get the items you need and go home. Practicing good hand hygiene both at home and when you go out is important. Remember not to touch your face. Use of masks and gloves have not been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of the disease.
Can I invite friends over?
If you have people in your home who are elderly or at higher risk due to health issues, it is best to avoid even small gatherings. If you are young and healthy, keep in mind that young healthy people can expose older and more vulnerable people to COVID-19. And young children, even in good times, have a hard time with hand hygiene and avoiding touching their faces.
That said, you don’t want to feel isolated either, so call loved ones, arrange video chats and play games online to lessen boredom and avoid feeling isolated.
Can I go outside?
The great outdoors is still the great outdoors. Fortunately, the weather is turning toward spring so going for a walk, bike or run is a great way to stop from getting stir-crazy. Think twice about bringing your kids to the playground where they can be exposed to germs on equipment and then bring those germs into your home.