Why WHO says we shouldn’t be calling it ‘social distancing’

WHO officials encourage calling it ‘physical distancing’ not ‘social distancing’

If there is one phrase that sticks with us from this pandemic, it may well be “social distancing.” But some experts say the term may be ill fitted.

Now, experts at the World Health Organization are encouraging calling it “physical distancing” instead.

While experts agree that maintaining distance, staying home and following shelter-in-place orders is essential in the fight to stop the spread of coronavirus, that doesn’t mean being socially disconnected from friends and family.

"Technology, right now, has advanced so greatly that we can keep connected in many ways without actually physically being in the same room or physically being in the same space with people," WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said on March 20,according to Al Jazeera. "We're changing to say physical distance and that's on purpose because we want people to still remain connected."

In fact, experts are actively encouraging people stuck at home to find ways to connect with others, from a safe distance.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people and communities.” Checking in with each other can be important for mental health in an unprecedented time.

"It occurred to me from the beginning that this was an unfortunate choice of language to talk about 'social distance', when actually what was meant was 'physical distance,'" Martin W Bauer, a London-based sociology professor told Al Jazeera. "It is good that WHO finally tried to correct an early error of mistaking physical distance for social distance. In these strange times of the virus, we want clear physical distance, but at the same time, we want people to remain close to each other 'socially.'"

Additionally, the CDC recommends the following measure to look out for your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

  • Stay informed, but avoid over-saturating yourself with coverage of the virus
  • Take deep breaths and try to meditate
  • When you can, eat healthy foods and get regular exercise
  • Take time to unwind "and remind yourself that strong feelings fade"
  • Take breaks from consuming coverage
  • Connect with others about what you are feeling
  • Maintain healthy relationships with friends or family members
  • Try to maintain a sense of positive thinking

The CDC also has resources available about coping with a disaster or traumatic event here.