What is social distancing? As coronavirus spreads, here’s what health experts say

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising individuals to take the following steps to stay safe.

What exactly is social distancing? Will it help prevent the spread of coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people to begin practicing "social distancing."

It’s quickly become a buzz word, with memes and jokes from introverts have sprung up quickly online, social distancing is more than just an excuse to cancel plans and stay in.


So what exactly is social distancing and will it help the spread of coronavirus?

Dr. Anthony Fauci with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CBS News that social distancing means "trying to keep yourself away from other people, especially large crowds." That includes at work, school and social events.

Since the World Health Organization says coronavirus can easily spread through sneezing and coughing, maintaining adequate distance can help prevent the virus from spreading, experts say. WHO recommends maintaining a three-feet distance between yourself and someone who is showing symptoms like sneezing or coughing.

“When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease,” WHO says on its website.

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In an informational video about social distancing, WHO’s Benedetta Allegranzi says people “should avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing people with these symptoms.”

Allegranzi, the technical lead for infection prevention and control, says in the video that if you are acting as a caregiver to someone with symptoms, a mask is recommended and to “practice hand hygiene.”

While “social distancing” seems perfectly coined for the world of Twitter, it’s not actually a new concept.

A fact sheet from public health department in Santa Clara County, California, notes that health officials began considering social distancing as a viable option to stop the spread of viruses after the 1957-58 influenza pandemic.

In 1957-58, a H2N2 pandemic killed an estimated 1.1 million people worldwide and 116,000 people in the United States, CDC data shows.

Experts note that much of the spread of that virus is believed to have occurred at gatherings such as “conferences and festivals.”

The Santa Clara County public health department notes that some examples of social distancing include: Colleges and universities suspending in-person classes; libraries modifying their schedules and operations; businesses setting up flexible shifts and having employees work from home. Other measures can include K-12 schools closing, malls and theaters closing and mass transit being temporarily suspended.

“During a pandemic, it will be critical to understand what you may be asked or required to do. It will be important to follow any Public Health social distancing instructions or any other instructions or orders that may be given,” the fact sheet notes.


The Department of Health and Human Services also recommends that people prepare for potential negative impacts that can come with social distancing.

The department notes in a fact sheet that while social distancing can prevent "the spread of an infectious disease," it can also lead to anxiety, anger, symptoms of depression, loneliness or uncertainty for some.

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Officials recommend people educate themselves in advance and prepare to be their own advocate.

"Do not be afraid to ask questions — clear communication with a health care provider may help reduce any distress associated with social distancing, quarantine, or isolation," the department states on its fact sheet.


CDC recommends preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

• CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

• If you are concerned you might have the coronavirus, call your healthcare provider before going to a hospital or clinic. In mild cases, your doctor might give you advice on how to treat symptoms at home without seeing you in person, which would reduce the number of people you expose. But in more severe cases an urgent care center or hospital would benefit from advance warning because they can prepare for your arrival. For example, they may want you to enter a special entrance, so you don't expose others.

Source: CDC


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