“It’s just a small dinner party, and I’ll make sure to wash my hands a lot.”
“Playing tennis is okay — we’re way more than 6 feet apart.”
“I’m young and healthy, so it doesn’t really matter if I get it anyway.”
Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the federal government issued social distancing guidelines to limit the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there’s been a lot of confusion — and a lot of not-so-great adherence.
According to the CDC, social distancing is staying away from social settings, mass gatherings, and most importantly, maintaining distance from others (at least 6 feet) whenever possible. This keeps the highly-contagious novel coronavirus from spreading from one person to another and flattens the curve.
The idea behind flattening the curve is simple. By slowing the spread of the virus, the country can prevent a dangerous surge of patients that would overwhelm the healthcare system and put many lives on the line. For instance, hospitals can generally still function with a 10% reduction in staff — but not with half of their workers out at once.
However, people across the nation are allowing themselves dangerous leeway that hinders the country’s ability to flatten the curve and beat this pandemic. From pickup basketball games at the park all the way to “coronavirus parties” (yes, I’m serious), some are making what they want of social distancing — or ignoring it altogether.
Slowing The Spread: It’s Up To Us
On April 1, 2020, experts said that social distancing measures seemed to be working to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Still, there are nearly a million cases of COVID-19 worldwide — and the US takes the lead with 245,646 confirmed cases (as of April 3, 2020).
“There’s no magic bullet (for COVID-19), there’s no magic vaccine or therapy — it’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.”
— Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the coronavirus federal task force
Look, I get it. I want to visit friends and eat at restaurants and simply interact with more than just the people (and animals) I live with, too. But until everyone truly starts following the guidelines of the smartest researchers and medical experts in the country, that’s not going to happen.
It’s up to every single person to save the millions of Americans at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. To provide further clarity (and maybe a little inspiration on how to stay connected), here’s a look at what social distancing is — and what it is not.
Social Distancing: The Who
The term social distancing is a little misleading. You don’t have to halt social interactions entirely — you simply need to maintain physical distance while doing so. In fact, that’s why some people have now started calling it “physical distancing” instead.
While you’re inevitably going to come into contact with the people you live with, like family and roommates, you should avoid social visits beyond that for the time being. This includes dinner parties, having friends over, and going to visit your family at another household. This is especially important if you’re going to visit anyone who is particularly susceptible to severe complications from coronavirus, such as the elderly and immunocompromised.
However, the CDC, the federal government, and the rest of the country do not care if you keep texting, calling, and video chatting with your friends and family. Coronavirus doesn’t spread through the internet, and you can’t contract it over the phone.
Now is the time to take advantage of the virtual options for connecting with your loved ones. You can have a virtual dinner, play games on the app House Party, or simultaneously binge Netflix on Netflix Party.
This is also a great time to spend some extra quality time with the people you live with. From themed dinners to game nights, there are plenty of ways to reconnect with those closest to you.
Social Distancing: The What And Where
Commonly referred to as the “new normal,” people’s lives are being upended and totally rearranged. Your typical routine of going to work Monday through Friday, attending workout classes in the evenings, and doing grocery shopping every Sunday is temporarily suspended.
Now, you should really only leave your home if it’s necessary. If you’re an essential worker (thank you healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and foodservice workers, among many more heroes during this time), go to work. But if you can work from home, now is the time to do so.
Other essential reasons to leave the house include:
- Going to the grocery store (try to get as much as you can at once to limit trips — but don’t hoard)
- Visiting the doctor for necessary reasons (try using telemedicine, if you can)
- Exercising outdoors — while remaining 6 feet away from others (organized sports like soccer or tennis are not okay because of the close distance or shared equipment)
- Picking up food from a local restaurant
- Running to the hardware store for an essential need (like buying materials to fix a broken pipe)
In short, don’t leave your home because you want to — leave your home if you have to. Letting your kids play on playground equipment with neighbors is not social distancing, but letting your kids play soccer in the backyard is. Going to the store for new clothes is not social distancing, but going to the store for food and remaining 6 feet away from others is.
Even when going out is essential, do your best to limit your outings. When you do have to leave your home, take the necessary precautions, such as extra hand washing, wiping down surfaces, avoiding touching your face, or wearing a homemade mask.
Social Distancing Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Plenty of people think that just because they’re young and don’t have any risk factors, then they won’t be impacted by coronavirus. However, that’s downright false. Other people’s parents, siblings, best friends, and children depend on you to slow the spread of this contagious and dangerous illness.
Plus, young people aren’t entirely safe from this deadly disease. One report from the CDC in mid-March revealed that 20% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were patients ages 20 to 44 years old. In addition, cases of COVID-19-related deaths in young and healthy patients with no underlying conditions continue to be reported every single day.
Social distancing is about the health of the greater public. Whether it involves bingeing Netflix, spending extra time with your family, or getting some much-needed work done around the house, staying home is critical right now. If you’re in a position where you’re able to do so, take advantage of this simple way to save lives.
Months or years from now, remember how much you wanted to visit your parents for dinner or eat at your favorite restaurant. Remember to be grateful for it when you can go about your normal life again. But for now, stay put — and give yourself a pat on the back for saving lives from the comfort of your couch.