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In the span of just a few months, the coronavirus went from an unknown virus to a global threat, with infections in almost every country in the world. It grounded the global economy to a halt, decimated healthcare systems, and flipped our understanding of day-to-day life on its head.
With a virus this infectious and with healthcare systems already overwhelmed, the best thing we can do is to flatten the curve. Social distancing is a critical element of the process.
What is social distancing, and why is it so important in fighting the coronavirus?
Social distancing is a public health practice designed to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. The idea is simple: prevent infected people from coming into contact with healthy people.
There are many ways to social distance, but the idea is the same: keep people from getting too close together. As it applies to COVID-19, the CDC defines social distancing as maintaining a distance of at least six feet (two meters) between yourself and others when possible. You should also stay away from crowded places, as it’s difficult to maintain social distancing when there are a lot of people.
This also means no physical contact with individuals outside your household (i.e. the people you live with). No hugs, no handshakes, no high-fives, no pats on the back. Nothing.
On a broader scale, this also means canceling any events that would lead people to congregate in groups with people outside their own household. Schools and universities, for example, are switching to online learning. Workplaces are mandating work-from-home measures for employees who can do so. Cities are canceling public events and mandating cancelation of community gatherings such as church services.
The benefits of social distancing are many, but what it comes down to is resources.
Healthcare systems are not designed to efficiently handle pandemic conditions. The current rate of infection has hospitals operating far beyond capacity, which means they’re rapidly running out of critical resources, including PPE essentials like masks and gloves.
They’re also forcing doctors to suspend other practices to support their ER and intensive care counterparts simply because there aren’t enough staff to deal with the influx. Medical students are graduating early so they can be conscripted to the frontlines.
This means that the entire population of healthcare workers is at risk. They do not have the means to support incoming patients and have to ration supplies, or give up their supplies to harder-hit urban hospitals. Doctors and nurses are at a higher risk of getting sick, and they know there is no healthcare available to support them.
Social distancing is critical because it helps cut down on the rate of infection. This will reduce the burden on hospitals and healthcare personnel, allowing them to provide care to every patient who needs it and get ahold of supplies necessary to provide treatment.
Social distancing is difficult for many businesses to adapt to, and harder for those stuck in a lonely limbo. But it is essential to containing coronavirus and allowing us to beat this pandemic.
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