To limit the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, health experts say people should practice social distancing. But what does that really mean?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing involves “avoiding mass gatherings” and “maintaining distance” whenever possible. Even standing six feet apart from one another, people can spread the virus through droplets from coughs and sneezes. Social distancing limits the chances of that.
Dr. Susy Hota is an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Toronto, in Canada. “Social distancing is a very general term,” she says. “There are a bunch of different types of measures that can fall under it.” For kids, these include learning from home instead of going to school and canceling playdates and sports events. “All of these measures are trying to achieve the same thing,” Hota says.
Denise Rousseau is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She says social distancing is a response to the idea that many people can’t stay home all the time, even during a disease outbreak. “People have lives that they need to continue to live,” Rousseau says. By keeping space between themselves and others, people “can reduce the likelihood that the virus can be transferred,” she says (see “Flattening the Curve,” below).
Both Hota and Rousseau know it can be difficult to keep away from others in some situations, such as on public transportation or elevators. Going to the bank or grocery store can also be hard. In these cases, social distancing means simply doing the best you can.
Stop and Think! Why is it important to hear from experts during an emergency? How does information from experts help limit the spread of misinformation?