The power of social distancing

Hi, I'm Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Chicago Medicine. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on our country, our hospital workers are doing an extraordinary job treating patients. In Illinois, the stay-at-home order appears to be working, helping keep our hospitals ready to care for those in need.

The curve is flattening, and our increase in new cases is beginning to plateau. I know we're all tired of stay at home and miss our loved ones and our haircuts. We're in a hurry to get back to normal. But it's crucial now more than ever that we keep going.

Those of us who are able to have got to keep staying at home, washing your hands, staying six feet away from others and, if you haven't already done so, wearing a mask like this one for essential trips outside the home. We have to stay the course. And together we can save lives and make thousands of differences.

To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged Americans to practice social distancing. But what is social distancing, and how is it done?

Social distancing is one of a number of tools that can slow the spread of COVID-19. This technique specifically refers to different ways of keeping people separated, such as:

  • Working from home instead of an office
  • Avoiding public transportation
  • Closing schools or switching to online classes
  • Visiting friends and family electronically instead of in person
  • Canceling non-essential group gatherings
  • Avoiding being within 6 feet of others
  • Avoiding crowded restaurants, stores and houses of worship
  • Limiting trips to the grocery store or pharmacy as much as possible

While it may be disappointing to hear that gatherings such as weddings, birthday parties or even visits with a small group of friends or family should be postponed, we must remember that this is crucial to battling this virus. Social distancing is a way we can all work together to spread ourselves out from other people and slow the spread of COVID-19.

But how important is social distancing? Many states, including Illinois, have now enacted mandatory stay-at-home policies to more strictly enforce distancing and protect our high-risk populations. Right now, the goal of social distancing is to slow down the outbreak and flatten the curve. “Flattening the curve” is a term used to describe the slowing of the spread so that fewer people are sick at the same time. If many people are sick at once, this could easily overwhelm our hospital system, and we would not have enough beds for all the patients that need care.

If the curve flattens, the outbreak lasts longer. But it also means fewer patients arrive at the hospital each day needing critical care. Slowing that pace down means there’s a better chance hospitals can keep up with the demand by having adequate supplies, beds and health care providers to care for these patients.

Most coronaviruses, including the new coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, are spread by respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. Research indicates that respiratory droplets do not travel more than 6 feet, so it is recommended to keep that much distance between you and other people to help stop the spread of this virus.

Social distancing is important for all of us. It is especially necessary for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms. However, since some people may be carrying the disease but showing minimal symptoms — or none at all —we all need to practice social distancing for the greater good.

Learn more about the impact social distancing can have on COVID-19, and why it’s one of our most important techniques in combatting this global pandemic.

COVID-19 can spread far, but what if...

They worked from home, they didn't go on vacation, they didn't go to the mall, and they didn't go to the party?

Social distancing is key.

Emily Landon, MD

Emily Landon, MD

Dr. Emily Landon specializes in infectious disease, and serves as Executive Medical Director for infection prevention and control.

Learn more about Dr. Landon.

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