Blog 3/16/2020

Social Distancing: Why It Matters in Stopping the Spread of COVID-19

COVID-19, also known as the “coronavirus,” has (unfortunately) been a hot topic over the past month. As the number of cases continues to rise in the United States, both federal and state governments are taking steps to fight against the spread of the virus, including shutting down public areas and banning gatherings as small as 25 people.

Many health experts have recommended that people practice “social distancing” to keep not only themselves safe, but their loved ones as well. Coronavirus spreads more quickly than the flu and can be transmitted by people who show no symptoms—the incubation period can vary from 1-14 days before people start showing symptoms. To help understand the importance of social distancing in fighting this pandemic, we answer some of the most common questions about it below.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming into close contact with healthy people to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. It can include large-scale measures like canceling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions such as avoiding crowds. In short, it involves people staying at home as much as possible to reduce the chance of passing on diseases.

Why does social distancing matter in preventing the spread of coronavirus?

With coronavirus, the goal of social distancing is to slow down the outbreak to reduce the chance of infection amongst high-risk populations (mainly people ages 65+ and/or those with chronic health conditions) and to reduce the burden on health care systems and workers. Experts describe this practice as “flattening the curve,” which refers to the potential success of social distancing measures to prevent surges in illness that could overwhelm health care systems over time.

Is social distancing the same as self-quarantine or isolation?

Social distancing is not the same as self-quarantine or isolation—that’s when public health officials order you to stay away from other people because you are infected.

Social distancing means thinking about the impact you might have on others if you do get the coronavirus and don’t know about it and taking measures to prevent transmitting it to other people.

How do I practice social distancing? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately six feet or two meters) from others when possible.” On March 15th, the CDC recommended that all in-person events of 50 or more people be canceled for the next eight weeks. Some states are going even further in limiting crowds—Massachusetts has banned group gatherings larger than 25 people, for example. This has led to many schools and businesses (gyms, movie theaters, etc.) closing or having reduced availability (many restaurants are only available for takeout or delivery orders).

To best practice social distancing and reduce your risk of catching (and passing on) coronavirus, implement these tips:

  • Maintain the 6-foot recommended distance from anyone who is demonstrating signs of illness, including coughing, sneezing, or fever.
  • As a general rule of thumb, avoid large crowds of people.
  • Avoid public events and eliminate visits to non-essential places, such as gyms and restaurants.
  • Avoid going to airports unless necessary and try to opt for private transportation over public transportation.
  • If your workplace gives you the option to work from home, take it. The more you can reduce your contact with other people, the better chance you have of not catching (and passing on) the virus.

What else can I do to help prevent the spread of the virus? 

One of the best practices is one of the simplest: wash your hands. Unfortunately, many people either don’t wash their hands enough, or they do it the wrong way. Follow these steps to wash your hands the right way:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands under clean, running water.

In addition, help educate your family, friends, and co-workers on the virus and how they can avoid possibly spreading it. Below are some examples:

  • This FAQ from the CDC provides everything you need to know about the virus, including symptoms, how it spreads, how to protect yourself, and testing. Take time to read it and share it with your loved ones.
  • Encourage people to stay home as much as they can, leaving only for essential activities (work, if working from home isn’t possible, groceries, medical visits, etc.).
  • If your local grocers offer delivery services, take advantage of them, and encourage people you know to do the same.
  • Teach others how to wash their hands the correct way and educate them on social distancing.

Also, avoid going to the emergency room unless symptoms are severe. The CDC recommends you call your primary care provider (PCP) if you or someone you know shows symptoms of the virus.

For more information on the coronavirus and social distancing, check out the sources below.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronavirus FAQ”

The Hub, “What is Social Distancing and How Can it Slow the Spread of COVID-19?”

Wired, “Social Distancing FAQ”

DirectPath Providing Free COVID-19 Employee Help Line
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