Health agencies and local officials have been urging people to practice thorough hand washing, keep their hands off their face, stay home when sick and even employ social distancing in an effort to stifle the spread of novel coronavirus. While the first three may seem self-explanatory, many are wondering what exactly social distancing means.
“Social distancing for COVID-19 means avoiding places or gatherings where you are likely to be exposed to respiratory droplets from others – directly or on surfaces,” Dr. Jill Grimes, an urgent care physician at The University of Texas, and author of “The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide to Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness,” told Fox News. “We know this virus is spread primarily by these droplets, up to a distance of roughly six feet (from a cough or a sneeze) and so avoiding areas where people are physically closer than six feet is key.
Grimes added that those areas could include public transportation, which during rush hour usually entails standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers and holding onto communal poles or straps for balance.
“If you have any chronic disease or condition that weakens your immune response, now is the time for you to practice social distancing to decrease your own exposure,” Grimes said. “Additionally, even if you are low risk (healthy, young), social distancing can reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to someone around you that is at risk.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeated calls to practice social distancing but pointed out that walking through a busy city such as New York typically makes that practice difficult.
“[The] best way to reduce your risk for everyday life crowd situations is to do your best to travel or shop at ‘off’ times, which is why employers are encouraged to allow flexible work hours,” Grimes said. “Shop early in the morning, or push back your workday by a couple of hours.”
Grimes said that in prior reviews, the practice of social distancing has been shown to reduce the rates of flu and other flu-like illnesses.
“There are many moving parts and variables and bias implicated in these studies, but the bottom line is rather common sense that reduced contact to large or tighter crowds leads to less exposure and less disease,” she said.