Social distancing (or, to be more accurate, physical distancing) is the phrase on the lips of every newscaster, every CDC bigwig and most of the citizens in America and around the world right now. This is in response to the Great Viral Pandemic of 2020.
Social distancing is simply an infectious disease control protocol that will hopefully stop or slow the spread of contagion.
It works by reducing the chances that someone who is infected will come into contact with people who are not infected, further spreading a pathogen and accelerating it exponentially.
While social distancing is undoubtedly effective if done properly, quite a few people get several of the crucial procedures and other factors wrong, reducing the effectiveness of this protocol, and possibly putting themselves and others at greater risk of infection.
Considering the inconvenience that social distancing inflicts on societies that practice it ,you are doing yourself and everyone else a disservice if you don’t do it correctly.
In this article we will be giving you the straight answers, and a proper guide to implementing and sticking to social distancing correctly.
Table of Contents
Social Distancing: Why It Works
Social distancing works by slowing the exponential spread of a pathogen.
It is difficult to comprehend just how far and how fast someone who is infected with a virus can spread it to other people, who then in turn spread it along their own “contagion track”, and often do so unknowingly while the virus gestates in their body.
Think of it this way: a person who is infected, whether they know it or not, will go out into public and will potentially leave traces of the virus on everything they touch.
Everyone who touches the things that are infected with the virus lingering on their surfaces runs a significant risk of infecting themselves along with other people both through direct contact with their now infected hands, and by leaving new patches of the virus on everything that they in turn touch.
Even if you strive to keep their hands scrupulously clean you aren’t out of the woods yet.
People who cough or sneeze will eject droplets of fluid from their mouths and nose that will contain varying amounts of the virus. If other people inhale these droplets out of the air, then they become infected too.
Nasty, I know. It goes without saying that anything these droplets land on is now contaminated, and becomes a secondary vector of infection.
It does not take much in the way of imagination to see how a person, not knowing they are infected, will continue to go about their usual life and activities spreading the virus far and wide to everyone they are normally in contact with: friends, family, cashiers, other shoppers, coworkers and more along with untold numbers of other people who come into coincidental contact with surfaces that they infected.
Now, every single person that becomes infected by that one person will repeat the cycle described above.
The growth and spread of the virus are then truly exponential, but by implementing social distancing a person can remove themselves as a link in this morbid chain, saving countless dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people that are “downstream” from them.
Social distancing is not particularly difficult to do in practice, although the toll it can take on your psyche and mental health varies from person to person.
Nonetheless it is essential to follow the guidelines strictly and diligently for it to have a good effect. Social distancing works well when it is part of a comprehensive system to reduce exposure to the virus through all potential vectors. Keeping that in mind we will outline the steps below.
What Does Social Distancing Mean?
Essentially you need to stay indoors, stay away from as many people as possible and have all essentials goods delivered to your home if possible, Don’t touch people, and wash your hands constantly.
If a family member of roommate is not engaging in social distancing, what should I do?
Maintain your distance as much as you can and don’t touch them! If they understand, great. If not, that is on them.
Keep your hands washed, and make sure you disinfect surfaces you both use more frequently.
So you are saying I cannot have friends or family over?
Correct, if you are smart. The virus is readily transmitted and is even spread far and wide by people who are showing, and will not show, any symptoms! The only way to be sure is to enforce social distancing.
Steps for Doing Social Distancing Right!
In all cases, the best prevention against catching the virus is to avoid being exposed to it in the first place. Sometimes easier said than done, but with a little common sense it is easy to avoid some high-probability ways of catching it.
Any area that is crowded, areas where sick people congregate like doctor’s offices, hospitals or similar locations and any place where you know a person who has contracted it lives, shops or works. Do not take stupid and unnecessary risks.
Keep the goal in mind and read the steps below.
Step #1: Maintain Distance from Other People
The CDC recommends you stay out of close contact distance, defined as closer than six feet. The current guideline recommends you keep a minimum safe distance of six feet or more between you and all other people at all times.
This cannot guarantee that you will not contract the virus, but greatly reduces the chances that you will contract it directly from an infected person.
Step #2: Avoid Handshakes, Hugs, Kisses and Other Forms of Contact
You need to make it a point to stop all forms of contact with everyone in your household, and out in the world wherever possible.
While the principal form of transmission for most viruses is from person to person through respiration (coughing and sneezing as described above), most will definitely linger on surfaces of all kinds, waiting to be picked up on the hands, and then transferred to the nose, mouth or eyes when someone touches it.
If you touch someone else who has touched something contaminated with the virus you are now contaminated with the virus, and your likelihood of spreading it to others goes up drastically.
You can completely eliminate this potential link in the chain by halting all forms of contact with other people, even in your own household. It makes life hard and unpleasant, and is especially hard on children, but this might be the thing that stops the virus right at the 5-yard line so to speak.
Step #3: Avoid Gatherings of all Kinds
There is no easy way to say this, and no way to make it more agreeable, but you need to avoid gatherings of all kinds, in all locations, if at all possible. Getting together with even one or two pals significantly increases your risk of contracting the virus.
You have no way of knowing every where they have been and where they might potentially have been exposed to the virus. They can be carried in the body while the carriers are completely asymptomatic for weeks, making this akin to Russian Roulette.
The more people at a gathering the worse off you are, and the worse everyone else’s chances are. It is hard to do, but you need to lay off the get-togethers, events and activities.
Stick to remote communication and virtual activities if at all possible.
Step #4: Stifle Your Own Coughs and Sneezes
A major source of viral transmission comes from the infected droplets of fluid emanating from coughs and sneezes.
To prevent these infected droplets from spreading in a giant, disgusting shotgun-like spray you need to stifle your coughs and sneezes.
This is properly done by coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow (not your hand!) or into a disposable tissue.
Neither method may catch 100% of the droplets carrying the virus, but it will catch a lot more than if you’d using some other technique.
Also make sure if you have to sneeze or cough out in public you take all precautions to direct away from other people in the area. That is normally called “good manners” but since this viral pandemic erupted you must be extra cautious.
If you are sniffling, coughing or sneezing for any reason whatsoever you should self-quarantine and isolate yourself entirely, but if you cannot you should wear a disposable mask to catch virtually all of the droplets emanating from your mouth and nose.
Step #5: Protect Yourself from Others Coughs and Sneezes
There is little doubt that by now you have noticed the propagation of transparent plastic screens at checkouts, around food and produce in groceries, at receptionist desks, and elsewhere in public places.
These simple devices are called sneeze guards and their function is exactly what is described on the box.
If someone coughs or sneezes these transparent sheets will block particulates from striking the person standing behind them, or at least reduce the percentage of them that do hit the target.
You should take a clue from this and use whatever you can that is handy to try and block the coughs or sneezes of other people that are sick.
This could take the form of a bag, a backpack, a clipboard or any other impermeable object. No, you should not have to worry about someone coughing or sneezing around you willy nilly, but these things have a way of sneaking up on people and happening suddenly.
Make sure you stay quick on the draw, and don’t forget to disinfect and sterilize your “shield” as soon as you can.
Step #6: Self Quarantine if You Feel Sick
If you feel sick, “off”, or if have any symptoms of any illness it is imperative that you self quarantine at once.
Notwithstanding the fact that you can be spreading the virus far and wide before you have any symptoms whatsoever, and completely unknown to you, if you are feeling symptoms you must assume you have contracted the virus and take all action to keep from spreading it. This is your civic duty and just being a good neighbor.
Take all steps to limit your contact with other people and use all precaution to prevent transmitting your germs to anyone else on things like money, credit cards and so forth. If you can have groceries delivered, food delivered and there’s any way for you to stay completely out of public life you have to do so.
If you’re inside your own home, try to use your own bathroom and keep all other family members out of your bedroom. Wear a mask so that you’re coughing and sneezing does not start spreading the virus to all surfaces.
Step #7: Wash Your Hands Frequently!
The single most important thing you can do while employing social distancing is washing your hands as often as possible. At the minimum you want to use soap and water with at least 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing all over your hands, between the fingers and under your nails.
Anytime you enter, or exit a public place you should wash your hands immediately, and also do so immediately after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
If you don’t have easy access to soap and water, you can use old, trusty, hand sanitizer!
All you need to do is choose a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% ethanol or greater than 70% isopropanol, and follow the same procedure that you would washing your hands with soap and water only this time you repeat the procedure until your hands are dry.
Remember! You must avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible but especially if your hands have not been washed recently.
It is an easy thing to pick up the virus by touching something contaminated with virus particles and then touching your face.
What to Expect During Prolonged Social Distancing
It is important to understand now that social distancing, while effective, is not normal and goes against our natural human instincts and needs.
It is entirely possible and even likely that you will suffer a bit emotionally and mentally as the crisis drags on.
A few possible things you might experience include:
- Boredom – Entirely understandable considering that most people will see meaningful social contact and interaction drop to zero for the duration, along with many of their favorite pastimes.
- Anger or Irritability – The near total loss of personal connections along with the isolation brought on by being effectively quarantined inside your house will make plenty of people crabby, and anger at people who have issued lockdown orders or quarantine protocols is understandable.
- Fear and Anxiousness – We are dealing with a dangerous pandemic. Fear and concern for ourselves and our loved ones as well as the fate of nations and the world is a rational response.
- Loneliness – Social distancing often causes a profound sense of disconnection in people who have, to this point, been more or less constantly connected with others and the world around them up to this point.
- Sleeplessness – The combined stresses of social distancing often result in loss of sleep or an altered sleep schedule leading to ever-mounting stress.
- Depression – Everyone has a limited capacity for dealing with stress and anxiety, and some people will suffer from full-blown depressive episodes as a result.
Social distancing is 100% no fun but it is also highly effective at curbing the otherwise unstoppable and geometrically accelerating spread of a highly virulent pathogen.
But social distancing only works as part of a greater system for combating the spread of contagion, and if you are half-assing it, or skipping steps, you might as well not be doing it at all.
Review the steps above, commit them to memory and put them in place; you will drastically lower your chances of catching or spreading a virus.