What Is 'Social Distancing' and How Does It Help Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus?

Officials are encouraging people with underlying health issues to practice social distancing

As health officials attempt to contain the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some experts are suggesting that communities practice “social distancing.”

Social distancing for individuals is described by Harvard Health as “maintaining enough distance between yourself and another person to reduce the risk of breathing in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” Studies have shown the flu virus can spread as far as 6 to 8 feet from coughing or sneezing.

“This ought to be top of mind for people over 60, and those with underlying health problems, such as heart or lung disease, diabetes or compromised immune systems,” Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and longtime adviser to the CDC, told CNN.

“The single most important thing you can do to avoid the virus is to reduce your face to face contact with people,” he added.

In a community or city, social distancing could include limiting or canceling large gatherings of people, such as closing down schools, encouraging employees to work from home, and canceling concerts, parades and sporting events.

“This is not an instruction. This is not an order,” Schaffner clarified to CNN. “I’m not asking everyone to stay at home and lock the door for a month. I’m saying, be thoughtful every time you contemplate getting together with a crowd or group.”

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In recent weeks, several concerts and events around the world have been canceled in an effort to limit the spread of Coronavirus. Miley Cyrus canceled her upcoming concert in Australia, while Pearl Jam also announced that they would be postponing the first leg of their upcoming concert tour. Other cancellations were seen from Madonna, BTS, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, Ciara and Mariah Carey.

Similarly, Austin’s annual SXSW festival, Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Indian Wells tennis tournament were all canceled as a measure of social distancing.

While social distancing may not be enough to halt the virus completely, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reported that it has proven to help slow down the spread of diseases in the past, including during the 1918 flu pandemic.

“Cities that did a lot of social distancing did better than those that didn’t,” he said.

Anthony Fauci — Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — said people should expect more of the measure to be implemented in the coming weeks, according to The Boston Globe.

“If you’re a vulnerable person, take it seriously, because particularly when you have community spread, you may not know at any given time that there are people who are infected,” Fauci told the outlet. “It’s common-sense stuff.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also maintains that the best prevention methods are basic forms of hygiene — careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face and staying home at signs of illness.

As of March 10, 116,166 people have been infected across 118 countries, with 4,088 cases resulting in death. In the United States, there have been 755 confirmed cases — the majority of which have been in New York, Washington state and California. As of Tuesday, 26 people have died from the disease in the U.S.

Earlier this week the CDC gave a press briefing and warned that “many will become sick” from the virus, but that most are at low risk of dying.

“Based on what we know about this virus, we do not expect most people to develop serious illness,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said. “Reports out of China that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients found that about 80 percent of illness was mild, and people recovered. 15 to 20 percent develop serious illness.”

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