Social Distancing 101

Coronavirus Model Image:  CDC

We're hearing a lot about "social distancing" lately.  What might sound like new age psychobabble really just means keeping a physical distance from other people who might be infected with the Covid-19 virus.

This reminds me of the 1980's when healthcare workers had to find ways to protect themselves and others during the AIDS epidemic.  What developed was a system called "universal precautions."  The first rule of universal precautions was to assume everyone you encountered was infected with the HIV virus.  These practices continue to this day as standard procedure.  This is why dentists, physicians and other care givers wear gloves and other barriers when attending patients.  We don't think twice about it.
"Assume every person you encounter is infected with the virus."
This is not an insult to your friends and neighbors.  This is a way to express love and friendship.  It becomes a reminder to maintain a physical distance from others to protect both yourself and them.  This distancing will help to prevent person-to-person transfer of the infection  It is the reason that gatherings of people in close quarters is being discouraged and even banned altogether.
"Stay at least 6 feet away from each other."
The current recommendation is to stay at least 6 feet away from each other.  This is the height of a tall man or the length of 2 yardsticks.  Governor Inslee and the Washington Department of Health have published these guidelines for social distancing:
  • It generally means we stay out of places where people gather:  Places like movie theaters, religious gatherings, public transportation, group fitness classes, coffee shops.
  • We all need to stay at home as much as possible. And when it isn’t possible, we need to work together to stay at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • Many people cannot work from home.  If it is at all reasonable for you to do your work at home, please do. Every day.
  • The schools are closed to keep the kids away from each other so that they do not spread germs to one another and to the community.  We need to keep them away from each other.  Please do not arrange large play dates, sleepovers, or parties.  Take your children to parks and enjoy the outdoors.  Take lots of walks outside, but get used to saying, no, sorry, you can’t come pet the dog.
  • Use a grocery delivery service to reduce the number of times you need to go to the grocery store.  If you do need to physically go to the store, try to go at odd hours when they won’t be busy, and be sure to wash your hands before and after your trip.
So, what will social distancing accomplish?  Another term we are hearing in the news is "flattening the curve" (see the diagram above).  We know that people will become infected despite our efforts, but they don't all have to happen at once (the red curve).

The horizontal dotted line represents what our healthcare system can manage.  It indicates available hospital beds, ventilators, healthcare workers, and other resources.  The part of the red curve above the line means there might be people who won't be able to get care.

The goal of social distancing is to slow down transmission and keep the number of infected individuals below the dotted line (the blue "flattened" curve).  Under this scenario every person who needs care will have it available.  Remember, our other healthcare needs, surgeries, accidents, illnesses, etc. won't stop happening during an epidemic.

To protect yourself and others, stay 6 feet away.  Instead of a handshake or hug, give each other a thumbs up.
Additional Coronavirus Resources:

Washington Department of Health
US Centers for Disease Control
Avoid Rumors and Know the Facts (CDC)
World Health Organization
Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Dave Wenning