ATHENS, Ga. — You’ve heard all the public health experts say it: Disrupting the spread of coronavirus means social distancing.
But what exactly is social distancing? Why is it important? And how do we know if we’re doing it correctly?
Marsha Davis, dean of the University of Georgia College of Public Health, says properly distancing ourselves from others is imperative for “flattening the curve.”
“The curve we’re talking about refers to the number of new infections in the U.S. and how quickly we are seeing new cases. Without measures like social distancing, new infections increase rapidly and threaten to overwhelm our health care system,” said Davis. “Avoiding public gatherings, staying home more often and keeping their distance from others will mean that people are less mobile and interact with each other less. When that happens, the virus has fewer opportunities to spread. It is the best way we can protect ourselves and do our part to contain this outbreak.”
Below, Curt Harris, director of UGA’s Institute for Disaster Management, answers some common questions about what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is our best bet for slowing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve.
What is social distancing?
Harris: Social distancing is a preventive measure put into place to reduce contact between people and slow down the spread of the virus. It does not mean that you cannot go to the grocery store or gym, but you should limit the amount of time you are in those places and practice disinfection protocols while there. Wipe down your shopping cart or gym equipment. Wash your hands when you get home. Maintain 6 feet of space between you and others when possible. Do not shake hands with people you know. Avoid touching your face. Sneeze into your elbow.
It is very different from isolation and quarantine. Remember that if you are ill (meaning you have the virus), you are isolated. If you are questionable (meaning there is a good chance you could have the virus), you are quarantined.
Why is social distancing important?
Harris: All citizens have a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19. For most, our role is trying to limit our interactions with people to prevent the spread. The university has taken measures to assist in social distancing by restricting instruction for two weeks and suspending in-person classes for the rest of the semester.
Additionally, as a community, we have to think outside of ourselves. If UGA students become infected with COVID-19, the vast majority of them will experience mild symptoms similar to the common cold. However, if you go home or out somewhere and spread the virus to your parents or grandparents, older adults, or those with underlying illnesses or are immunocompromised, the outcomes for those individuals could be much worse.
Should we stop visiting elderly relatives or other loved ones in the most vulnerable categories?
Harris: You should definitely limit your visits with older adults. If you have to be around them, make sure you wash your hands before entering their space, avoid affection (e.g. hugs, kisses, handshakes, etc.), cough and sneeze into your elbow, leave your jackets outside, if applicable, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between you and them at all times.
If we are diagnosed with or exposed to the virus and have to self-quarantine, what are the restrictions?
Harris: You are allowed to go outside, but a general rule of thumb is that you want to avoid areas with people. Do not go to work, take public transportation, go to faith-based services, go to movie theaters, go to the gym, etc. You want to avoid crowded places. There is no issue with you walking outside, sitting on the front porch, hanging out on your balcony. The key is to avoid contact with people.
—Leigh Beeson, University of Georgia