The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise dramatically within the U.S., indicating
that the disease is more contagious and spreads more quickly than the seasonal flu. Although
anyone can become infected, high-risk groups such as the elderly and those with chronic medical
conditions are more greatly impacted. With an estimated 10% to 20% of cases experiencing
severe symptoms, hospitals and healthcare staff run the risk of becoming overburdened and not
able to provide adequate care for those who need it most. Add to this scenario the fact that the
novel coronavirus appears to have a considerably higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu and
that there is no vaccine or proven treatment at this point, then it becomes imperative that
preventive measures are utilized to slow down its spread. The burden of doing this falls not only
on the shoulders of the government and public health professionals, but on the general
population as well. The good news is that the average person can help to significantly curb the
spread of this disease by proactively engaging in social distancing.
Social distancing may be the word of the moment, yet its meaning and actual
implementation might still be vague for some people. Put simply, it is the public health practice
of maintaining a physical distance between people in order to prevent the transmission of
disease. On a personal level, it involves staying at home as much as possible and avoiding
crowds and large gatherings. In the case of COVID-19, an infected person can remain
asymptomatic for up to 2 weeks, potentially exposing countless others to infection. However, if
this same person has been practicing social distancing, then this can significantly lower those
opportunities for passing on the virus.
Certain lifestyle adjustments should be made in order to practice social distancing at this
time. Those who can work from home should do so and shopping trips to get essentials should
be strategic so that they are limited in frequency and duration. If one does encounter another
person, say during a weekly grocery run, then experts recommend keeping a safe distance of 6 ft.
from each other. For those whose jobs are considered essential and cannot work from home,
effort can still be made on a personal level to keep a safe distance from others in any
environment. In addition, frequent and thorough handwashing should be coupled with social
distancing for maximum benefit. All of this is done regardless of infection status, in order to
reduce the opportunities for exposure. Those who do become exposed to COVID-19, for
example through contact with an infected individual or recent travel, will have to quarantine
themselves using stricter isolation measures.
Social distancing is a public health practice that involves the community making some
behavioral changes and sacrificing in order to curb the spread of disease. In the case of the
COVID-19 pandemic, it is the primary tool available to protect ourselves from this dangerous
virus right now. And at a time when the situation may seem overwhelming, it gives people the
power to make a difference for themselves, their loved ones, and the greater community.
Rizwana Khan MSPH
I have a Masters of Science in Public Health with a focus in Epidemiology. I worked as a Statistician and Data Analyst for several years at the CDC and other research institutions. Currently I am a math teacher at a private high school.
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