Social distancing can help limit coronavirus risk: What does it entail?

Social distancing means keeping 6 feet, or two arms' lengths, apart

Health officials have pleaded with Americans to stay home and celebrate with immediate family members this holiday season while practicing public health measures, such as wearing a mask and limiting face-to-face contact while social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus. Those who cannot avoid travel are encouraged to maintain 6 feet of distance, but crowded transportation hubs or trains and planes can make it more difficult to do.

Social distancing means keeping a safe distance, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as at least 6 feet, or about two arms’ lengths away, from others who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

The health agency landed on 6 feet of distance after it was determined that coronavirus mainly spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land on the mouths or noses of others nearby. Several studies also determined that asymptomatic people who are infected with the virus can spread it this way.

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"When going out in public, it is important to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and wear a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19," the CDC stated, before giving additional tips.

Check with local public health authorities before going out to see what the latest guidance is. Consider choosing social distance-friendly options for travel, such as walking or cycling, and look to keep 6 feet of distance between you and others while on public transit.

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Limiting contact while running errands and using drive-thru or curbside pickup when available can help keep you safe, as can maintaining distance between yourself and delivery drivers. Choosing safe social activities like virtual celebrations, video chats or meeting others while outside and keeping 6 feet apart can also help lower your risk for COVID-19.

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The agency also advises keeping the distance at large events or gatherings if avoiding crowded places can’t be achieved. Paying attention to physical guides, such as tape markings on floors or signs on walls, can help people maintain their distance. Keeping your distance while exercising is also important, even when you are being active outside.

"Many people have personal circumstances or situations that present challenges with practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19," the agency acknowledged.

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If you do find that you’ve potentially been exposed, it’s important to know what the next steps entail, which can mean testing, quarantining or isolating, depending on your level of exposure.