As Donald Trump said this morning, “safe social distancing” may very well be our new norm. The President went so far as to ask people to meet in groups of less than 10 and stay away from public spaces to prevent our medical institutions from being flooded and overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading coronavirus. To be clear: though it’s not ideal, this is the way forward.
The problem is that right now people are still leaving the very term safe social distancing up for interpretation. Does that mean a complete quarantine or dinners out with parties of 10 or less? For now, the answer is far closer to the former scenario than the latter, but there is some nuance.
Here are all the rules and good practices of safe social distancing.
PART I: Do I Have To?
Yes. If you’re a responsible human being who cares about the people around you, then you need to practice social distancing. Right now, depending on what state or county you live in, you don’t have to by law, but expect that to change. There are reports that Vice President Pence is getting ready to announce a nationwide curfew sometime this week. The ball is in our court here — if we can act responsibly and curb the spread of this virus, we won’t have to go so far as a mandatory quarantine. But if people just want to “live life loud” or “be punk rock about it” or whatever, well, expect them to ruin it for the rest of us as we isolate in our homes unable to leave.
This is urgent and a test of the “united we stand” philosophy of this country. Jeff Martin, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist explains, “If the outbreak is unchecked, if we did nothing, you would see a rapid escalation of infections, and that peak is what overwhelms health care systems.” Hospitals are well equipped to handle a patient suffering from the complications of the coronavirus, but hospitals are in no way equipped to handle all of us being infected, or half of us, or a quarter of us, or an eighth of us. We’ve got to “flatten the curve” (the bell curve of infections), and to do that we need to change our lifestyles for a while.
This Washington Post simulator is amazing, and really helpful if you're looking for a visual way to understand how social distancing actually plays out https://t.co/fuqS5EA1nn
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) March 16, 2020
PART II: How Do I Socially Distance?
Until widespread testing is available across the country, treat your distancing measures as if you are at risk for the virus. The CDC recommends that you avoid gatherings of 50 or more people, and avoid close contact with others by about six feet. The President took it further — recommending we keep gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
What’s this look like in more practical terms? Don’t go to bars. Even if they’re even open, don’t make a habit of sitting shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers right now. Same goes for restaurants. Malls. The nail salon. The barbershop.
Stay Home If You’re Sick
If you’re sick, with anything, stay home. It doesn’t matter if it’s the flu, it doesn’t matter if you’re positive it’s a cold. Stay home. You’re either going to infect someone and leave them immunocompromised or lead to people freaking out, thereby putting a further strain on testing services.
From China data: The clinical presentation – fever in 83%-98% of patients. Dry cough (76%-82%) and fatigue/myalgias (11%-44%) of patients. Less common symptoms have been headache, sore throat, abdominal pain and diarrhea @CarlosdelRio7 @PreetiNMalani 15/22
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta (@drsanjaygupta) March 16, 2020
No touching! Especially strangers and acquaintances. Just stop freaking touching each other and your own face and orifices.
Okay, you can touch people, but remember that anytime you do you run the risk of contracting the virus. Again, until widespread testing is available throughout the country, we don’t know who has the virus and it’s possible to pass it on without showing symptoms. You’ve got to be careful and you’ve got to wash your hands post-contact.
What does this mean for dating apps and you know, getting it on? It means a whole lot more risk than usual. If you rely on dating apps to score your hookups, that is going to be an incredibly risky move right now. So spend some time with, ahem, yourself.
As in drinks, utensils, anything that goes in a mouth. We don’t share anymore. At least not with people outside of our homes.
PART III: Can I Still Go To The Market And Get Essentials?
You likely have no choice. But try to get all your needs covered in a single large trip, rather than making several stops at the market in a given month. The less you’re outside and in public places, the lower your chance of being exposed to the virus are. Plan ahead before heading to the market by making a list of everything you need. It’s also a smart move to try and shop at off-peak hours (though those might be in flux as we adjust to this new life) to avoid larger crowds and again, reduce your risk of exposure.
Once you’re home you should immediately wash your hands with soap and water. If you have an itch on your face at any time while you’re out shopping, you’re just going to have to deal. Cart, doors, cash, counters, food — there are a lot of contact dangers at the store and it’s your job to be cognizant of them.
PART IV: What If I Want To/Have To Hang Out With Friends?
Currently, the U.S. isn’t on complete and mandatory lockdown, so socializing with your friends is still possible, even though again, we don’t suggest it. If you absolutely must gather, keep the group small and hit up wide open and outdoor spaces to reduce your risk of potentially passing the virus to one another. Speaking to Vox, Kate Vergara, a public health and infectious disease specialist working in Chicago and New York City explains that “Covid-19 is not airborne” adding, “it is transmitted through droplets — being coughed on, or touching something that someone coughed on, for example, and then touching our face and allowing that pathogen to get into your system through your eyes, nose, or mouth,” so your best bet is hanging out in an open air space.
Go for a hike or an underpopulated beach and keep your distance from any other groups that might be gathering.
PART V: What About Walking My Dog, Or Going For A Run, Or Getting Some Sun?
Experts polled by the New York Times were unanimous in their suggestions that people continue to go outside and spend some time being active… by themselves. The key here is to stay away from other people. Once hand sanitizer becomes widespread again, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a small bottle with you so you can appropriately sanitize your hands after coming in contact with anything during your time out.
We have always been dependent on one another, but now more than we have been in a long time. Your individual behaviors directly affect the health of all those around you. Behave as if you may be carrying the virus even if you don’t know for sure. Be kind. pic.twitter.com/5JLvLvOcbh
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta (@drsanjaygupta) March 15, 2020
PART VI: Should I Still Get Food From A Drive-Thru Or Restaurant?
According to expert Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at the North Carolina State University, “food isn’t known to be a way of transmitting this or other respiratory viruses… you mainly need to be mindful about the surfaces you touch: menus, the table, condiments, things that other patrons might use.”
That makes drive-thru or delivery a logical option. Local businesses and drive-thrus are relying on us to keep business afloat and you can support an eatery by continuing to purchase food from them during the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants nationwide are reckoning with their current realities by issuing plans for delivering, takeout, etc.
Just keep in mind, by leaving home you are increasing your risk in some way. So keep up with our “Cooking Through the Quarantine” series and do your best to stay home.
PART VII: Should I Still Take An Uber Or Lyft?
Up to you, but if you’re practicing good social distancing you won’t need to take one because you won’t be going anywhere. Stop going places! If you must take one, don’t ride if you’re sick — you’ll be exposing the driver to whatever you have. Touch surfaces in the car as little as possible, and consider wearing gloves. If you want some peace of mind, engage the drive in what they’re doing differently during the coronavirus pandemic and wipe down the surfaces that you touch directly.
Remember, by stepping foot in the Lyft or Uber your risk of infection is increased. Don’t take a car to visit a grandparent.
During this uncertain time, we all must do what we can to help protect the well-being of our communities. We want to make sure drivers and riders know the best ways to protect themselves, and what Lyft is doing to help. Learn more: https://t.co/fdntRS5riG pic.twitter.com/EgFUDfClAX
— Lyft (@lyft) March 16, 2020
PART VIII: How Long Do We Have To Do This For?
Nobody knows. But experts speaking to The New York Times agree that the better we are at social distancing measures, the quicker we’ll slow the spread of the pandemic. Social distancing recommendations will always be shifting and changing, depending on how hard your specific community is hit. If you’re in Seattle or New York right now, you should be on high alert. If you’re in West Virginia, the only state that doesn’t currently have a coronavirus case, you’re much safer, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some social distancing practice in.
Worth remembering China is a fairly homogenous population. As the virus spreads to countries with more diverse populations, such as the United States, we may see different patterns of disease, such as more severe illness in younger people. #CoronaVirus 8/22
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta (@drsanjaygupta) March 16, 2020