“Social Distancing” is bound to become the most recognized term of 2020. In a matter of only weeks, it has ingrained itself into our social protocols and daily interactions. Restaurants, schools, office buildings, and even golf courses have shut down or significantly altered their operations in order to achieve social distancing.
So what exactly is the science behind this phenomenon, and how can it help save us from an unprecedented coronavirus disaster?
The Definition of Social Distancing
Social distancing is behavior meant to stop or slow down the spread of any contagious disease. The rules of social distancing encourage people to remain at least 6 feet apart in order to prevent infection. By closing schools, libraries, offices, restaurants, and centers for entertainment, cities around the nation are doing their best to guarantee social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why Social Distancing Really Matters
Each contagious disease has its own unique manner of spreading. The coronavirus in particular spreads when one person breathes in the droplets produced from an infected person’s sneeze or cough. A person infected with COVID-19 can also leave pathogens of the virus on any surface they touch or cough upon. If a healthy person unknowingly touches that surface, then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth, a spread of the infection becomes likely.
It’s hard to comprehend the dramatic rise in infections that could occur if libraries, schools, restaurants, and malls operated as normal. Every book, menu, and handrail touched could spread COVID-19, leading to an unfathomable domino effect.
Many experts present social distancing as a type of community service. “We need to change the conversation from: ‘How inconvenient is it to me?’ to ‘Who are the people who are suffering most, and how can we help them?’” said Sarah Fortune, chair of the department of immunology and infectious disease at the Harvard Th.H Chan School of Public Health.
Morgan Katz, assistant professor of infectious disease at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, echoes this optimism. He believes that maintaining social and physical distancing will slow down infection and help us get back to life as normal: “I’d say the beginning of May we’re going to feel like we’re coming out of this. That’s my hope.”
White House Guidelines for Social Distancing
Though the White House’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is always evolving, President Trump’s recent advice on March 16, 2020 warned against all gatherings of more than 10 people.
“My administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.”
This advisory is in place through the end of March, at which time experts will assess the situation and deliver fresh recommendations. In the meantime, cities from New York to San Francisco are implementing local orders to ensure social distancing has the effect that all Americans are counting on. A dramatic reduction in the spread of this disease.