Social distancing: What is safe and unsafe?
March 20, 2020
With the spread of COVID-19, the phrase “social distancing” has become a buzzword. What does it mean to socially distance? And how will it impact you and your family?
Defining the distance
Social distancing is exactly what it sounds like—keeping at a distance from others. The practice is an important infection prevention measure that involves intentionally increasing the physical space between you and other people. Specifically, keeping at least six feet away from each other decreases the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Realistically, this looks a few different ways:
- Canceling events that draw crowds
- Working from home instead of at the office
- Switching to remote education
- Postponing large meetings or conferences
- Keeping in touch with loved ones through technology, instead of in person
Americans have been asked to follow a few social distancing guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus. During these next few weeks, what is safe and unsafe?
Can I go shopping or out to eat?
The newest recommendations are to avoid restaurants, bars or food courts and to limit shopping trips, but be sure to check with your county for specific restrictions. Often, this means only going to the store for essential items. You can still grocery shop and get delivery or pick-up, but be smart about taking precautions. Wipe down cart handles and use hand sanitizer at the grocery store. Try to avoid touching your face while at the store and wash your hands before and after the trip.
When you get home, take food out of the containers they came in, and wash your hands thoroughly before eating. The food itself is not a major risk factor, but it is important to limit the physical interaction with any delivery drivers or store clerks.
Can I visit my parents?
Because older adults are a high-risk group for COVID-19, the federal government is asking people to stay away from nursing homes and long-term care facilities. This is especially hard for many of us, as social isolation is already a challenge from many of our elderly family members.
If you have any symptoms of the common cold or may have been exposed to the virus at all, don’t visit older relatives. Get creative about how you stay in touch right now. It’s a good time for FaceTime calls or mailing care packages. Consider streaming movies together virtually and make sure you have a back-up plan in place for who can care for older relatives if a member of your family does get sick.
Can I host others at home?
The official guidelines ask that people limit gatherings to 10 people or less and avoid social visits for now. Right now, hosting others for a social occasion can defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do.
Many people can have the virus and show no symptoms, which means you may be exposing others without knowing it. While you may think that having people over who are also in a low-risk group is fine, you can’t control who everyone else interacts with after leaving your home. The point of social distancing is to try to decrease possibilities of transmission, and having even one friend over can create new links. For now, think virtual and try to limit in-person interaction to only people who live with you.
What about work?
As much as possible, many of us are working from home right now. However, that’s not feasible for all of us. Going into the office can raise some important questions about what’s safe—and what to do for our kids.
If you must go into work, do everything you can to still practice social distancing: stay six feet away from others and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and if you have any common cold or flu symptoms, stay home.
Should I cancel my appointments?
If you have a nonessential appointment on your calendar, reschedule it for now. This particularly applies to nonessential doctor’s visits, elective surgeries or routine dental cleanings. Be responsible about freeing up doctor’s time and healthcare resources for those who need it most right now. Eventually, if we limit our interactions for now, we’ll be able to get to the other side of this period more quickly.