October 24, 2020
Social distancing: How to do it to slow the spread of the coronavirus

Social distancing: How to do it to slow the spread of the coronavirus


Social distancing is a public health strategy that is important to take seriously to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The White House is asking everyone to avoid gathering in groups larger than 10 people, to stay home and to limit travel until further notice. Now is a crucial time to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from escalating beyond what our health care systems can manage.

In many US cities, there are widespread school closures, many people are now working from home and countless businesses like restaurants, bars, coffee shops, fitness studios and gyms are closing their doors in an effort to keep people at home. 

All of these recommendations are meant to help foster compliance with what many public health officials say is one of the most important strategies for everyone to comply with (not just those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or feel sick): social distancing.  

Social distancing is practicing putting physical distance between yourself and others — at least six feet — and staying home when you can. The recommendation from the White House to avoid gatherings with 10 people or more doesn’t just mean in public, it also means to avoid gatherings in your house. White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told CBS News that COVID-19 is “about two to three times more contagious than flu — and so that’s why we want everybody to do everything they can.”

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The White House, along with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization officials, are urging young and healthy populations to comply with social distancing, especially since you can carry this virus and not display symptoms. This means even if you feel fine, you can still infect others, especially the elderly, immunocompromised people and people with certain health conditions who are at a greater risk of getting seriously ill.

Read more: Why you shouldn’t make your own hand sanitizer

Social distancing is not an easy thing to do, but it’s necessary when facing a pandemic. Given that it can feel extreme, lonely and sad to avoid people, here’s how you can do your part to reduce the spread of the virus, but still stay sane and feel connected to those you love. Remember, it’s a temporary measure that can help protect countless others (and yourself) in the long run.

If you’re confused about how exactly social distancing works and if you should do it, Natasha LaBeaud Anzures, who specializes in public health and human services, answers the most frequently asked questions surrounding social distancing, below.


It’s important to avoid crowds or gatherings of people — and if you do have to be near someone, stay at least 6 feet away.

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What is social distancing?

“Social distancing is increasing the physical space between you and other individuals to avoid spreading illness. Because the virus is spread from person to person, the CDC recommendation is to stay at least 6 feet from others to reduce spreading COVID-19. In addition, staying away from crowds of individuals is a part of social distancing, which is why there have been so many sports, school and event cancellations, and a shift to remote working environments for individuals,” LaBeaud Anzures says. 

It’s important to add that this includes staying home as much as possible and not going to restaurants, bars or other public places when you can. Many businesses are closing anyway to prevent unnecessary gatherings of people. 

Read more: How to safely order food delivery, takeout and groceries during coronavirus quarantines

Who should be doing social distancing? 

“COVID-19 has been labeled as a pandemic, a global outbreak of the disease. As a result, it is important for everyone to take social distancing recommendations seriously since the virus is spread mainly from close person-to-person contact,”  LaBeaud Anzures says.

Everyone, in everyone community across the US, should be practicing social distancing, whether you’re feel sick or feel fine. If everyone follows these orders, it will help slow the spread of coronavirus, “flatten the curve” and protect public health.

What’s the difference between social distancing, social isolation and quarantine?

Social distancing, isolation, and quarantine are all different practices based on the situation. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, quarantine or self-quarantine is when someone who is well, but suspects they’ve come in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus, chooses to separate themselves from others for a period of time. This gives them a chance to monitor any potential symptoms or illness that can develop if they’ve been exposed. 

Isolation is when someone totally isolates themselves from any contact with others — this can happen at a hospital or at home if the person is relatively healthy enough to fight the virus. 

Quarantine is for people who are sick or present multiple symptoms in line with the coronavirus, and a doctor has instructed them to self-isolate. 

Read more: How to wash your hands to protect yourself against coronavirus

Can I have people over?

“The best mindset with this is ‘less is more.’ Less contact with others outside of your household unit is the best option to help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” LaBeaud Anzures says. In general, if one other person who hasn’t been exposed or sick is in your home or apartment, the risk is low. But for now, stick to Skype, FaceTime and other virtual social connections when you can. 

Can I leave my house? 

“Since the situation with COVID-19 is fluid and ever-changing, this answer is not the same for all communities and cities,” LaBeaud Anzures says. “For example, the city of San Francisco will be on lockdown for three weeks starting March 17 at midnight through April 7. During this lockdown, residents are legally prohibited from leaving the home residence except for meeting basic needs (going to the doctor, buying groceries, buying medicine). Check your local public health department for the most up-to-date information about what is allowed in terms of leaving the home.” Note that San Francisco’s directive is to shelter in place, rather than a full lockdown, and that the city says exercise counts as a basic need.

If you are not under a strict mandate to stay home, then you can leave your house for the time being. Again, avoid getting closer than 6 feet to anyone or being in a place where more than 10 people are gathered together. Outdoor places, like parks, are your best bet to be able to get fresh air and keep your distance from others. 

Many stores and restaurants are closing or changing operations to limit exposure. For now, shop online for anything you need when you can and order takeout or to-go orders from your favorite places. Many coffee shops, like Starbucks, are to-go only and are not allowing people to stay in stores for the foreseeable future. 

Should I avoid seeing elderly friends or relatives and people who are immunocompromised? 

“Yes.The most caring thing that you can do for individuals who are elderly and immunocompromised is avoid seeing them right now. However, you can still call, text and Skype these individuals and speak with them to let them know that you care and are thinking about them,”  LaBeaud Anzures says. 

These groups of people are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from a coronavirus infection and so it’s important to protect them from others who might carry the virus.

Read more: 6 devices to keep tabs on your aging family members without invading their privacy   

How can I still hang out with friends?

Social distancing is putting a halt on lots of people’s social lives as they know them. While this is hard, it’s still important for people to comply. This does not mean you should totally cut off your social connections — that is not conducive to mental health and feeling better in general. 

So, call your friends, do group video chats on Skype or FaceTime and find other ways to connect, like playing video games remotely. If you’re watching Netflix, get some of your friends to do a “virtual” watch party — where you all watch the same movie or show and can see each other’s reactions on a group call, or start a group text to chat while you watch. 

Read more: Free entertainment to help you survive coronavirus social distancing


If you live with your family or roommates, be sure to clean common areas regularly. 

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How long should you do this? 

“As of March 15, the CDC is calling for all mass gatherings of 50 or more individuals to be canceled for the next eight weeks. All events, of any size, should only be continued while following the guidelines for vulnerable populations (the elderly and those with underlying health issues), proper hygiene and social distancing,” LaBeaud Anzures says.

The White House’s social distancing guidelines and recommendations for limiting gatherings to groups of 10 are in effect for at least 15 days, as of March 16. According to the White House, the next 15 days will be crucial to determining the next course of action for everyone — which could be stricter guidelines if people don’t comply with the current ones.

What if I live with roommates?

“With roommates, it is important to maintain the same proper hygiene procedures that you would with family. This means washing your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds. Touching the face, eyes and nose should also be avoided. Also, it is important to regularly clean the surfaces of your living area that are touched on a regular basis,”  LaBeaud Anzures says. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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