Why Social Distancing Is the Most Important Tool in Stopping the Spread of COVID-19

SPRINGFIELD — Federal health officials are concerned that Americans are not listening to the warning when it comes to social distancing and preventing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

As of March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommended that, for the next eight weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the country. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of social distancing in our efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Diseases, Baystate Medical Center.

Social distancing, the term often used by infectious-disease and infection-control specialists and public-health officials, means staying away from other people — in other words, avoiding crowds, and maintaining a personal distance (approximately six feet) from others when possible.

It is the close contact between individuals, whether at home, at work, or out in the public, that has resulted in the World Health Organization now referring to COVID-19 as a pandemic, Paez noted.

“Maintaining a distance, especially from someone who is sick and is coughing and sneezing, is important because, when that person coughs or sneezes, they spray small, liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, which may contain the COVID-19 virus or any other virus. If you are too close to them, then you can breathe in the droplets and become infected,” he said. “Equally important is the fact that you could be infectious, yet have no symptoms, and spread the disease to others.

 “We have now begun to see mass closings of amusement parks, bars and restaurants, movie theaters, religious services, schools, and some stores,” he went on, “and many other measures, including companies and organizations recommending employees work from home, all with the intent to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

According to the CDC, older people are twice as likely to have serious illness from the novel coronavirus, and it is advising people over 60 with underlying health problems to “stay at home as much as possible.” That means keeping a social distance by avoiding air travel, going to movie theaters, attending family events, and shopping at crowded malls, for example, which applies to everyone — not just seniors.

“What we know from researchers is that the fatality rate is likely to be higher among older adults. As we age, our immune system weakens in its ability to fight off viruses and infections. Also, chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and others make it harder for their already-weakened bodies to cope with the additional strain placed on them by COVID-19,” Paez explained.

Individuals might even want to keep a social distance from their doctor’s office, he added. “If you are going to see your doctor for a routine checkup, you might want to check with the office first. They might suggest a later date when the virus is under control, unless your doctor is seeing you for an ongoing condition and needs to see you in person, or you have developed concerning symptoms that might require a visit to the office.”

Social distancing also means reconsidering how people greet one another in social situations.

“The handshake is out, at least for now,” Paez noted. “Many people over the years have already become more accustomed to saying, ‘I’m not shaking hands because I have a cold.’ But we have to take that one step further and not shake anyone’s hand, even if you’re healthy. Handshaking results in transferring viruses and bacteria from one person to another, and that means the new coronavirus.”

What to do instead? Give a bow, wave, do the elbow bump. People will understand, he said.

“We all need to do our part to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus. The time to take action is now before it is too late, when as a country many are only now coming to the realization that social distancing is the only way to stop the community spread of coronavirus COVID-19.”

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