By now, you've probably heard that to slow the COVID-19 pandemic, people need to adopt social distancing measures — including remaining at least 6 feet (about 1.8 meters) apart from anyone they encounter outside their homes. Where does that number come from? And how should you be applying it in your life?
The reason we need to maintain this kind of distance from each other at all is because of how easily the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the microbe responsible for the illness, spreads between people. It can theoretically remain viable in aerosols for 3 hours, can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces, and it easily spreads through coughing and sneezing. The 6 feet of distance…
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Fischer noted that 6 feet is by no means a “magic number,” and that droplets likely do spread farther under some conditions. But that metric remains our best estimate yet when it comes to how much distance you should keep between yourself and others in public spaces.
With the COVID-19 coronavirus continuing to spread and no vaccine or specific treatment yet available, social distancing is the main available way to slow the pandemic by making it more difficult for the virus to spread from person to person. However, unless you are a Bond villain with your own island, a toilet paper factory, and robots to do your bidding, keeping yourself physically far enough from other people may not be easy.
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“It’s about contributing your own personal discomfort or inconvenience to protect yourself and to protect others,” Asaf Bitton says, of social distancing.Source Photograph by Joan Mateu / AP
As Americans and people around the world are being asked to help halt the spread of the coronavirus, we have frequently been told to practice social distancing. The idea is to “flatten the curve,” or slow the spread of the virus, decreasing the number of people who get sick at one time and the risk of overwhelming our medical system. In practice, social distancing mostly means avoiding close contact with people who do not live with you, and also public spaces, where surfaces may be contaminated. But, no matter how often we have been given such advice, it can be hard to totally change our habits, and the specific advice about how to behave can be confusing and overwhelming.
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No one knows how long self-isolation measures will remain in place, but public-health experts say it could be several months, or even longer, until large gatherings are safe to resume as normal.
Government advice for implementing physical distancing has mainly urged people to isolate themselves in space: staying at least 1.5 metres apart, working from home, avoiding gatherings, and minimising travel.
However, effectively separating people in space is extremely challenging. Different people still need access to the same essential locations, such as shops, workplaces and health care facilities.
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