Countries all around the world are confronting the reality of the novel Coronavirus and the growing number of COVID-19 cases. However, many public health officials now say we are in the mitigating phase of the outbreak. Since the virus is already in our communities, the focus has shifted to preventative measures that would reduce the fallout from the disease.

One such measure is reducing interpersonal interactions. News outlets and social media have been advising a lot of people to enforce “social distancing” to reduce the chances of coming in contact with an infected person.

The word sounds pretty self-explanatory but social distancing involves a lot more than simply staying away from people.

What Is Social Distancing?

By definition, social distancing is “a set of preventative control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease.” In other words, it’s a way through which people consciously choose to limit their interaction with other people in part by avoiding crowds and large gatherings. 

On a larger scale, it involves cancelling group events or closing public spaces.

Since coronavirus mostly poses a risk for those with compromised immunity, such as the elderly, infants, and those who have been ill before, it’s always a good idea to maintain distance so that you and the other person remains safe.

Who Advised It?

Public health officials, as well as several scientists, have advised large scale measures that include companies directing employees to start working remotely, and schools being shut. Social distancing is a preventative measure, rather than a curative one – it works as prophylactic- no one at work or school or gym may be sick yet

The decision to shut down has also had a domino-like effect with major events being called off and movie release dates being postponed. Though with every passing day, these decisions are being made in response to the rising positive cases.

When Was It First Implemented?

One of the earliest references to social distancing dates back to the Bible’s Book of Leviticus, where it is stated that “the leper in whom the plague is..shall dwell alone; outside the camp where his habitation be:”

During the 1918 flu pandemic, Western authorities, especially in the US, implemented school closures, bans on public gatherings, and workplace closures.

Public space closures were shown to reduce morbidity from the Asian Flu by 90% during the 1957 outbreak. Similarly, the cases analyzed during the 2009 Mexican flu epidemic also showed up to 37% reduction in transmission rates.

Where Is It Being Implemented Now?

Many news outlets have reported that social distancing won’t be considered as a legitimate preventative measure unless the state mandates it.

Keeping in mind the environment, population, and travel factors various countries’ governments announced a complete closure on all public activities.

China implemented particularly stringent measures in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected. 

Italy has gone into lockdown, with several other countries following its example and imposing travel restrictions. The UK government has advised its citizens to stop all non-essential contact with other people. India is the latest country to go on a complete nation-wide lockdown, including restricting movement of air and road traffic. 

Why Is Social Distancing Important?

In cases of a pandemic, there are two types of intervention that can be implemented: pharmaceutical (like medication, vaccines, anti-virals) and non-pharmaceutical. Social distancing is one of the best preventative measures available on an individual level. 

By avoiding others- possibly sick people- we reduce our chances of contracting and spreading illness. This is called ‘flattening the curve‘. It’s a way of reducing the virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time. This lowers the pressure on the healthcare providers and medical professionals and they can give more of their time towards those who are sick.

How Does Social Distancing Help?

There is evidence from previous outbreaks such as the 1918 flu epidemic and the 2014 ebola outbreak, that social distancing does effectively limit the spread of infections. 

Maintaining distance is the best course of action since we know that coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets.

What Is Your Role In Social Distancing? 

Bear in mind: 

  • if you can work from home, please do so. Don’t gather in shared public spaces such as gyms, malls or schools
  • If you’re ordering food, ask for it to be left at the door to minimize the risk to you and the delivery person
  • If you’re stepping out for groceries, try to go during non-peak hours. While you’re there, maintain a 5-foot distance between yourself and the other person.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

Along with the spread of coronavirus, there has also been a spread of misinformation. If you feel unwell, book an appointment with your doctor to get accurate information about the illness and how you can stay safe.

You could use TABIIB as a solution to book an appointment online and avoid gathering at or coming in contact with people at a hospital. Visit www.tabiib.com to know more.

I am a writer, covering the sprawling expanse of healthcare, among many other things that I love writing on. I write on healthcare because I want to do my part in informing people about the health industry, When I am not blogging about research and medicine, I enjoy reading, playing squash and backpacking around the world.