A guide to social distancing

As COVID-19 sweeps the nation, experts discuss preventative measures

The simple act of staying indoors can save up to 59,000 people from contracting the virus, according to the Director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, Hugh Montgomery

In a recent article on Vox, Montgomery explains this and more. Experts use the basic reproduction number, R0, to describe how infectious a disease is. Essentially, the higher the number, the more contagious the illness can be.

COVID-19’s R0 is roughly three, meaning that it’s three times more likely to infect someone than the common flu. If one person has the virus and passes it on to three people and they pass it on to another three people and the cycle continues, the initial carrier would have been responsible for indirectly infecting around 59,000 people, assuming everyone who comes in contact with it is infected. 

Recently, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention issued a set of guidelines for communities and the general public to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among their suggestions is a concept known as “social distancing.” 

Social distancing means maintaining a certain distance between you and another person. Currently, the suggested distance is six feet. The public is advised to limit contact with people, avoid large gatherings, public transportation and unnecessary travel.

Reducing the number of people you come in contact with is key as it significantly reduces the spread of the virus. This method was proven to “effectively limit the spread of infections … [during] the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak, as well as from [other] outbreak simulations,” Layal Liverpool wrote in a recent article in the NewScientist. 

Though the most susceptible group to this virus is those 65 years and older, the younger ages are not immune. In fact, recent studies show that “up to one-fifth of infected people ages 20 – 44 have been hospitalized, including 2% – 4% who required treatment in an intensive care unit,” Sharon Begley wrote in a StatNews article. Anyone can be infected. Therefore, it is critical that people practice social distancing and isolation for the next few weeks.

President Trump made an announcement on March 29 that social distancing guidelines would be extended until the end of April. However, this date is not a final decision and according to Aria Bendix, a senior science reporter at Insider, “experts say that those social-distancing measures will sort of be necessary until we have a vaccine, and that’s 12 to 18 months.” The peak of the curve has yet to be reached and as infection rates rise every day, experts find it difficult to name an exact date when social distancing will no longer be required. 

Minor adjustments now help flatten the curve later. The phrase “flattening the curve” refers to “community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers,” Brandon Specktor wrote in a LiveScience publication.

Everyone’s situation is unique, but there are several changes all adults, kids and teenagers can make to their schedules to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

If you’re missing a friend, a relative or a teacher, try reaching out to them via text, email or using video communication services such as FaceTime, Skype or Google Meets. In times like these, it’s important to reach out and check up on loved ones, even if you can’t be physically present. 

Another important precaution is to avoid physical contact with other people. Trade your hugs and kisses for smiles and waves  — sorry, even elbow-bumps are out. Remember to stay at least six feet away from others and steer clear from people who are ill or show any signs of sickness. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly, avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes and wipe down frequently touched objects or surfaces with disinfectant or soap. 

In an article for LiveScience, Wynne Parry and Elizabeth Peterson discussed some of the world’s most infectious diseases, and went into depth on the novel coronavirus and its recent impact. 

“Though it was only just discovered, [COVID-19] has already spread rapidly in China and around the world. As of Feb. 10, 2020, the virus has led to more than 40,000 illnesses and 900 deaths in China, as well as more than 400 illnesses and two deaths outside of mainland China,” Parry and Peterson wrote. 

Since then the numbers have been updated to 1,424,124 total cases worldwide, 81,889 deaths, and a total of 301,731 patients have recovered. Currently, there are 1,040,513 active cases around the world, the Worldometer reports. 

These numbers illustrate the severity of this virus and that’s why experts are advising the public to stay at home. People can unknowingly become carriers for the virus and subsequently pass it on to other people, making it nearly impossible to flatten the curve. 

Unsurprisingly, pandemics don’t come with a set of guidelines or rules to follow. The current circumstances prove to be uncharted territory for all of us. 

The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to follow the advice of health officials and stay home.