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Expert Advice and Harsh Truths About Social Distancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Social distancing has been recommended by epidemiologists and public health officials as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19, flatten the curve, and save lives. Avoiding rock concerts and sporting events is easy, but what about going to the grocery store or visiting with a friend? The Atlantic’s Kaitlyn Tiffany talked to a number of public health experts about The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’.

Q: Should I be avoiding bars and restaurants?

Cannuscio: People should avoid gathering in public places. People should be at home as much as possible. The measures that have worked to get transmission under control or at least to bend the curve, in China and South Korea, have been extreme measures to increase social distancing.

Q: Should I stop visiting elderly relatives?

Cannuscio: I think if we are fortunate enough to live near our elders and we get into the mode of seriously isolating our own families, then one person should be designated to go and visit. If we’re not in a situation where we can truly limit our own social contact, then we will be putting that elder at risk by going to visit.

In my estimation, the answers that Carolyn Cannuscio, of Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, gives are the ones to follow. Dr. Asaf Bitton’s advice is even stricter:

2. No kid playdates, parties, sleepovers, or families/friends visiting each other’s houses and apartments.

This sounds extreme because it is. We are trying to create distance between family units and between individuals. It may be particularly uncomfortable for families with small children, kids with differential abilities or challenges, and for kids who simply love to play with their friends. But even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent. The symptoms of coronavirus take four to five days to manifest themselves. Someone who comes over looking well can transmit the virus. Sharing food is particularly risky — I definitely do not recommend that people do so outside of their family.

They both rightly talk about how the early actions we take will end up having a big impact in limiting the damage. (Check out this video about epidemics & exponential growth if you haven’t already.) Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places were able to nip the epidemic in the bud in part because of aggressive social distancing practices.