By now, you have all heard the advice that to slow the spread of COVID-19., we need to practice social distancing. But if you're confused as to what that looks like in practice, we've got some answers.
First – what is social distancing? Another way to think of social distancing is ‘physical distancing’. The more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread. Stay away from other people when possible — this is why mass events like sports games have been canceled and why areas where people congregate, like religious gatherings, and restaurant dining rooms, have been closed or at least restricting the number of patrons. When you must interact with others, like in a grocery store, stand at least 3 feet apart and preferably 6. This makes it harder for the virus to spread.
Below are some answers to common questions about social distancing.
I’m young and don’t have any risk factors. Can I continue to socialize?
Please don’t. There is no question that older people and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable to the virus, but young people are by no means immune. Even people who show only mild symptoms may pass the virus to many, many others — particularly in the early course of the infection, before they even realize they are sick.
Experts acknowledged that social distancing is tough, especially for young people who are used to gathering in groups. But even cutting down the number of gatherings, and the number of people in any group, will help.
Can I leave my house?
It’s O.K. to go outdoors for fresh air and exercise — to walk your dog, go for a hike or ride your bicycle, for example. The point is not to remain indoors, but to avoid being in close contact with people.
You may also need to leave the house for medicines or other essential resources. But there are things you can do to keep yourself and others safe during and after these excursions.
When you do leave your home, wipe down any surfaces you come into contact with, disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer and avoid touching your face. Above all, frequently wash your hands — especially whenever you come in from outside, before you eat or before you’re in contact with the very old or very young.
Can I go to the supermarket?
Yes. But buy as much as you can at a time in order to minimize the number of trips, and pick a time when the store is least likely to be crowded.
When you do go, be aware that any surface inside the store may be contaminated. Use a disinfecting wipe to clean the handle of the grocery cart, for example. Experts did not recommend wearing gloves, but if you do use them, make sure you don’t touch your face until you have removed the gloves.
If it’s a long shopping trip, you may want to bring hand sanitizer with you and disinfect your hands in between. And when you get home, wash your hands right away.
Those at high risk may want to avoid even these outings if they can help it, especially if they live in densely populated areas.
I had a doctor's visit scheduled months ago. Should I still go?
If it's a nonessential visit to a doctor or dentist, reschedule it.
Things that don't need to be done right away, don't get it done. If you're a person with an elective surgery, you don't want to go into a hospital right now. Let’s be responsible and free up hospital beds and space.
Can I go out to dinner at a restaurant?
Some countries have closed down restaurants for now. Some countries have restaurants operating at half capacity to maintain social distancing and soften the economic impact. But in small restaurants, that may still mean you’re too close to other diners. It’s also not possible to maintain true social distance from the people preparing or serving the food.
In general, avoid going out to restaurants, but, If you’re going to go, go to some place that you trust. Choose spacious restaurants and ones where the staff members likely practice good hygiene. Better yet, opt for takeout. If you’re concerned for the restaurant’s financial future, ask about purchasing gift certificates you can redeem later.
What are the chances of delivered foods being contaminated?
According to experts, food doesn’t carry the virus well, so you’re unlikely to get sick from it. You’re more likely to get the virus from person-to-person contact.
Some drop off food services have implemented ways to minimize contact with deliverers, like leaving food at the door.
Can family come to visit?
That depends on who is in your family and how healthy they are.
Certainly, sick family should not visit. If you have vulnerable people in your family, or who are very old, then limit in-person contact.
But if everyone in the family is young and healthy, then some careful interaction in small groups is probably OK. The smaller the gathering, the healthier the people are to start with, the lower the risk of the situation is going to be.
At the same time, you don’t want family members to feel isolated or not have the support of loved ones, so check in with them by phone or plan activities to do with them on video.
Can I take my kids to the playground?
That depends. If your children have any illness, even if it’s not related to the coronavirus, keep them at home.
If they seem healthy and desperately need to burn energy, outdoor activities such as bike rides are generally OK. But people, especially in higher-risk areas, may want to think twice about trips to high-traffic public areas like the playground.
Kids also tend to touch their mouths, noses and faces constantly, so parks or playgrounds with few kids and few contaminated surfaces are ideal. Take hand sanitizer with you and clean any surfaces with disinfecting wipes before they play.
Serious illness from this virus in kids is rare, so the kids themselves might be safe. That doesn’t mean they can’t come home and give it to Grandma.
So kids should wash their hands often, especially before they come into contact with older or high-risk family members.
Can I use Public Transport?
Avoid buses and trains unless absolutely necessary and essential. With seats on buses and trains being close to or facing one another, it is likely to meet someone who is sick and who has not sought medical attention.
Some countries are limiting the hours of public transport. If you are using public transport, make sure you are keeping enough room between yourself and others (more than two meters away from others) and avoid peak times.
I’m scared to feel alone. Is there anything I can do to make this easier?
It’s a scary and uncertain time. Staying in touch with family and friends is more important than ever.
We are lucky enough to have technologies that can maintain social connections.
Stay connected via social media, chat and video. Be creative: Schedule dinners with friends over FaceTime, participate in online game nights, plan to watch television shows at the same time, enroll in remote learning classes. It’s especially important to reach out to those who are sick or to high-risk people who are self-isolating. A phone call with a voice is better than text, and a video chat is better than a telephone call.
How long will we need to practice social distancing?
That is a big unknown, experts said. A lot will depend on how well the social distancing measures in place work and how much we can slow the pandemic down.
“For now, it’s probably indefinite, We’re in uncharted territory.”