If there has been one phrase that has dominated news cycles and social media since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is “social distancing”. Governments, healthcare professionals, scientists and statisticians have been urging the public to practice social distancing and to refrain from gathering in groups in an effort to “flatten the curve”. Despite the constant reminders, some people have opted not to take notice and still head to the beach or have parties, increasing the risk of catching or transmitting the virus, endangering not only themselves but also others.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is the practice of avoiding close proximity with other people to avoid transmitting infection . Doctors recommend staying at least 1.5m apart, regular washing of hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitiser and covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. The distance and hygiene practices limit people’s exposure to aerosolised particulate expelled when coughing or sneezing (the major transmission vector for respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19 ) as well as direct contact with potentially infected people or surfaces. In short, Social Distancing is endeavouring to stay around a body-length away from other people and avoid touching . With the lockdown, staying at home as much as possible, only leaving when necessary, such as to buy groceries, is also a vital part of current social distancing practice.
Why Is Social Distancing Important?
The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 will only show mild symptoms and will recover quickly, while other people barely show any symptoms at all. This may prompt people to dismiss COVID-19 as just another seasonal flu, but the novel coronavirus is anything but. A novel virus is new and has no treatment or vaccine, so is especially dangerous to those more vulnerable to respiratory illness, such as people with compromised immune systems due to treatment or disease, people with chronic illnesses and the elderly. By practicing Social Distancing and proper hand and respiratory hygiene, everybody can help slow the spread of the virus, protect the vulnerable and take pressure off an overburdened medical system.
What Is Flattening the Curve?
Previous experience and data from previous Coronaviruses (including the Spanish Flu and 2009 Pig Flu ) and other pandemics ( 2014 Ebola outbreak ) have shown that Social Distancing can be a very powerful tool in slowing the spread of an outbreak. Without social distancing and/or the quarantining of carriers, viruses can grow at an exponential rate, with each person infected being able to infect more people, and them in turn being able to infect even more. People who have recovered from the virus can no longer contract or transmit the virus, eventually ending the threat, but by that stage the damage has been done, overwhelming the healthcare system and potentially killing a number of people, as we have already seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy and Spain.
By limiting close interaction through social distancing and the lockdown, not only are we limiting exposure to potential sources of infection, we’re also giving people with the infection the ability to recover and become immune, further reducing the risk of people being able to transmit the disease. This is “flattening the cure” - reducing the spread of the virus from exponential to controllable, and keeping the number of cases under what the hospital system can handle.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, book your appointment with a COVID-19 clinic here.
We Can All Be Heroes
Frontline medical staff and the scientists working on a COVID-19 vaccine are undoubtedly heroes. They are doing an amazing job caring for the sick and working to end the virus, but by staying home, social distancing and practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene, we can all do our part to slow or even halt the spread of the virus and protect those most at risk.
We’ve all had to change our lives of late - either having to work from home, taking mandatory leave or even losing jobs thanks to non-essential businesses having to close doors. The uncertainty, both in terms of health and economic outcomes can be frightening. If you need motivation in these trying times, remind yourself that you’re not hiding away from the problems of the world by staying at home, but rather that you’re providing a valuable public service and what you are doing is actively helping people. You may be afraid, lonely or frustrated at not being able to behave as you normally would, but you’re also a hero.