As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be the major story across the globe, you’ve probably heard the phrase “social distancing” quite a bit and with good reason: it’s one of the best preventative measures you can take to protect yourself.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stressed that by “avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible,” you can help slow the spread of the virus.
But with many schools and colleges shut down as a result of the outbreak at the same time as annual Spring Break vacations, families and students may make group outings to the beach or other gathering places to cope with anxiety or to escape self-quarantine for a few hours.
But now, more than ever, infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, MD, says it’s important to fight that temptation and continue practicing isolation. “It may not make for a fun Spring Break, but it’s an essential step in helping curb an outbreak,” Dr. Taege says.
How social-distancing protects you
COVID-19 is likely spread the same way other human coronaviruses, like the cold, are spread:
- When the virus becomes airborne and travels in respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks near you (within six feet). This is thought to be the main way COVID-19 is spread.
- From close contact (touching, shaking hands) with an infected person.
- By touching surfaces that the virus has landed on, then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing your hands.
If you’re spending time on a packed beach or planning tons of sleepovers and playdates for your kids, you’re increasing the risk of infection simply by being around more people.
While social distancing may not be the most fun way to spend a few weeks off from work or school, it’s a necessary measure of protection. Limiting contact with other people limits your potential exposure. It’s why the federal government has recently asked people to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.
But practicing social distancing also protects others, Dr. Taege notes. Scientists are seeing cases of COVID-19 in people who were infected by individuals who had COVID-19 but were not yet showing symptoms. Just because a person wasn’t visibly sick didn’t mean they didn’t carry the virus and couldn’t pass it to someone else.
This is especially important in protecting those who are more at risk. People over age 50 and those who have heart disease, lung disease or weakened immune systems seem to be more at risk for serious infections that could lead to pneumonia and difficulty breathing.
“By limiting your exposure to others via social distancing, you’re helping to break the chain of spreading the virus in both directions,” Dr. Taege says.
So exactly how far do we have to take social distancing?
Never planned on becoming a recluse? We understand. Dr. Taege says there’s no true, concrete rules on precisely how far we need to take things.
“There’s no magic number of people, or exactly which people,” Dr. Taege says. “But during a time such as this, less is definitely more. It might be OK for your kid to have a sleepover with one friend, if no one in either family is symptomatic and they’ve generally been practicing social distancing to limit any possible exposure.”
While we shouldn’t throw all caution to the wind, we also need to keep our mental health in mind. “As humans, we all depend on interaction with others to keep our sunny dispositions,” he says. “This becomes more important than ever in times of crisis. So, besides staying in close contact by phone and social media, it’s best to make carefully thought out decisions about who you can still see in person.”
At the end of the day, postponing your trip to the beach or that get-together may not seem like the fun way to spend a few weeks, but it can help protect both you and those around you.