After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the coronavirus outbreak is officially a pandemic, countries around the world have responded accordingly. Universities in Canada and the US are closing, non-essential conferences and sports leagues are being canceled, and people are being advised to halt all travel plans. Anyone can get infected, and the only way to slow down the outbreak is to reduce the number of people getting infected.
Amidst this fear, the most widespread advice for anyone experiencing symptoms is to socially distance themselves. But what, exactly, does that mean? How is this different from self-isolation? What if you live with family? What if only one person in a family of four is experiencing symptoms? Why is this even important?
How do I know if I need to socially distance myself? How is that different from self-isolation and strict isolation?
Everyone should be socially distancing themselves! Essentially, that means deliberately distancing yourself from other individuals to reduce COVID-19 transmission rates.
On the other hand, self-isolation or self-quarantine is when you have been in contact with someone who was diagnosed with the coronavirus, or someone who was exhibiting symptoms. Self-isolation also applies for people who are asymptomatic, but have secondary medical issues (diabetes, heart condition) that may make a coronavirus infection more dangerous for them.
Lastly, isolation is when you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you are exhibiting any flu-like symptoms. At this point, you will receive instructions for isolation from your medical provider.
What does social distancing entail?
If possible, do not leave the house. Try to stay at least six feet away from other people, and avoid coming in direct contact with them. Social distancing can also be done by avoiding crowds and mass gatherings, canceling upcoming events, working from home, moving classes online, and communicating electronically instead of personally visiting people.
What if I live with other people?
Even if no one in the household is exhibiting symptoms, it is best to keep distance for at least two weeks, which would be the virus’s incubation period. On the other hand, if you need to self-isolate, try to sleep in separate rooms, and keep 6 feet away from each other. Frequently wash your hands, and frequently keep your surrounding areas clean. If possible, avoid touching your face, especially after being in contact with shared possessions or furniture. Wash all plates and utensils thoroughly with warm soap and water, or use a dishwasher with a drying cycle.
How can I help vulnerable people?
If there are vulnerable and at-risk individuals in your neighborhood, consider getting groceries and other essentials for them, and leave the items at their doorstep. Frequently call or check up on your friends and family, since social distancing can be quite lonely.
Why is social distancing important for everyone, including young and asymptomatic people?
According to data from South Korean authorities, translated by Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, young people between the ages of 20 and 29 are carrying 30% of the disease in South Korea, with the majority being asymptomatic, meaning they are not experiencing symptoms. This means that while you may feel fine, if you are sick you can still infect a large number of people by just being out and about!
Why is social distancing important?
By now you have probably seen a version of the graph that explains why we need to "flatten the curve." Through social distancing and pro-active measures, we can not only delay the "peak" of the outbreak, easing demand for hospital and emergency services, but can also reduce how bad the outbreak could be.
Do you still have questions about social distancing, isolation, or anything else about the coronavirus pandemic?
👇Ask our community of scientists now! 👇