You’ve probably noticed a trend when you read advice about what to do during the coronavirus outbreak: Many experts recommend that you practice “social distancing.” But, while the term is thrown around a lot, you may not fully understand what, exactly, social distancing means. Also, do the rules of social distancing change if you’re pregnant or have a baby at home?
Here’s what you need to know about practicing social distancing, plus why it’s so important.
What does social distancing actually mean?
Social distancing is a public health practice that tries to keep infected people away from those who are healthy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. The overall goal is to limit the ability of the coronavirus (or any infection) to spread.
The CDC defines social distancing with regard to COVID-19 as, “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”
Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, recently addressed social distancing on Twitter. “The goal of social distancing in the U.S. should be to lower the pace and extent of spread of COVID-19 in any given city or community,” he wrote. “If that can happen, then there will be less people with disease, and less people needing hospitalization and ventilators at any one time.”
What should social distancing look like for you?
Rajeev Fernando, M.D., an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board, says he’s been asked about this a lot lately.
“People ask me about social distancing and my comment is based on the climate that we are in. If you are thinking there might be the slightest possibility that you get infected, skip the event,” he says. That’s also true for any unnecessary trip, he adds.
“I’m an advocate for aggressive social distancing,” he says.
That said, you don’t need to stay inside with all the windows closed. You can go for walks, just try to stay at least six feet away from others.
Can you go outside with children? What about play dates and the playground?
If you have children, it’s best to avoid playgrounds right now, says Danielle Fisher, M.D., a pediatrician and Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It’s a place where saliva gets transferred,” she says. Instead, she recommends going for a bike or scooter ride or, if you have a yard, making good use of it.
As for play dates, Dr. Fisher says it’s best to cancel them. “This is not a good time for social visiting,” she says. “If you are going out and think ‘Could I get coronavirus by going there?’ don’t go, period.”
What about other family members, friends and your child’s caregivers?
In general, it’s best to limit contact with others as much as you can, Dr. Fernando says. So, if you can limit your interactions with people outside your immediate family, you should do that.
If you have a babysitter or nanny and he or she young, Dr. Fisher says you’re probably OK to have them continue to come to the house, provided they’re willing and able, and also limiting their contact with others.
As for older relatives? For their own protection, Dr. Fisher recommends doing your best to keep them away, especially if they have a chronic medical condition.
Can you still run errands?
If you can, utilize your local food delivery service instead of going to the grocery store. In many parts of the U.S., restaurants and bars are closed, but still offer delivery service. Some, such as Seamless and Grubhub, now have a “contact-free delivery” option so you can minimize your risk even further.
What can you do inside with a toddler all day?
Many schools and daycares have closed and, if you have a toddler, you may be scrambling to figure out how to entertain him all day. Do your best to keep your toddler busy with simple puzzles and board games, dress-up, make-believe activities and block play.
The bottom line? We’re currently in a national emergency and experts stress that everyone should take this seriously — including by practicing social distancing.