The Do's and Don'ts of Social Distancing

Social distancing

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Key Takeaways

  • Social distancing is one of the most effective tools we have to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Aim to keep at least 6 feet away from the people outside of your household.
  • Wear a mask in public indoor spaces and outside when social distancing is not possible.

Social distancing: These two words have dramatically changed how we act and interact with friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers. In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus or COVID-19, we are all being asked to take this precautionary measure.

What Is Social Distancing?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social distancing is defined as remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance—approximately 6 feet or 2 meters—from others when possible. "Congregate settings" are public places that are crowded, and where close contact with others may occur, such as shopping centers, movie theaters, and stadiums.

The goal of social distancing, according to the CDC, is to reduce person-to-person spread, which happens through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. What makes this challenging, though, is that you can spread the virus before you show symptoms of having COVID-19.

Act as if you have the virus and approach other people as if they have it, too. This may sound extreme, but in an attempt to slow the spread, experts are asking us to carry out our daily lives with this level of caution.

“The safest thing at this point is to really minimize contact with others to the fullest extent possible,” says Melinda Ring, MD, executive director of Northwestern Medicine's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

She also reminds us that the guidelines for social distancing, as they relate to the coronavirus, are evolving as the world learns more about the virus and how it spreads, how long it takes for the infection to manifest, and how long infected people are able to pass the virus to others.

That’s why all of us need to adhere to the guidelines of social distancing, regardless of our age or current health status. It’s the only way we have a chance at flattening the curve, so we don’t overwhelm our health care systems. There is a limited number of hospital beds, ventilators, equipment, medications, and health care workers.

The Do's of Social Distancing

Stay Home

This is the easiest and most effective step you can take to practice social distancing. Ideally, you should only go out for necessities such as groceries, medications, doctor’s appointments, or to exercise outdoors. If you’re still required to report to work, practice social distancing while away from home, and spend as much time in your off-hours at home. 

Keep Medically Necessary Doctor’s Appointments 

To help ease any anxiety about going out, call the doctor’s office ahead of time to ask about policies and procedures for visiting the office, such as wearing a mask and taking your temperature prior to arriving. There may also be the option of meeting with your doctor virtually in a telehealth appointment.

Go to Grocery Stores and Pharmacies at Non-Peak Times

Whenever possible, adhere to the 6-foot guideline at all times while you're shopping for essentials, especially when standing in the checkout line. Many stores now have tape on the floor (in 6-foot increments) to keep the appropriate distance at checkout lines. 

Go Digital

Consider online ordering and at-home delivery for both groceries and prescriptions. Telecommute from home, take college classes online, and conduct any outside business that you can at home. 

Ask for All Home Deliveries to Be Left at Your Door 

If you need to pay, ask to do it over the phone or online. This helps protect you and the person delivering your items.

Go Outside and Exercise

You can still get outdoors and go for a walk, run, or bike ride. Just make sure you leave 6 feet between you and other people. Be aware of your surroundings, and avoid running or walking right next to someone. Outdoor physical activity, when adhering to social distancing, is good for both our physical and mental health.

Be Smart With Take-Out

When going for take-out, send just one member of the family, especially if you have to go into a restaurant to pay and pick up the food. 

Keep Your Distance in an Elevator 

If the elevator has more than one person, try to wait for the next one or take the stairs. While in the elevator, turn away from anyone also in it. 

Maintain Social Contact via Technology

Stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers via video chat, text messaging, and talking on the phone. Make it a point to reach out to at least one person each day. 

Keep Being Hygienic

Additionally, wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, especially after being in public. Clean shared surfaces such as tables, keyboards, pin pads at point of sale locations, and grocery cart handles before and after you come into contact with them.

Give health care workers, first responders, grocery store employees, pharmacists, gas station attendants, and any other individual that is working to protect our health and help us maintain our daily lives a sincere "thank you." 

The Don’ts of Social Distancing

Don't Schedule Appointments That Are Not Medically Necessary

Avoid non-essential appointments that put you in close contact with another person such as hair appointments, massages, manicures, physical therapy, and any other non-essential doctor’s appointment that you can delay. 

Don't Exercise Elbow-to-Elbow

Avoid tight or crowded running or walking trails, sidewalks, or tracks that prevent you from practicing social distance. It’s okay to exercise with other people, as long as you can maintain the appropriate distance. 

Don't Have Physical Contact With Non-Family Members 

Avoid shaking hands, giving hugs, high-fives, pats on the back, or any other physical contact with anyone but your immediate family (those living in your home). 

Don't Go to Crowded Establishments

Avoid restaurants, the gym, public basketball courts, dance halls, trampoline parks, and any other spaces where people are in close contact with each other. 

Don't Go on Vacation

Now is not the time to book a trip involving a cruise ship, airplane, train, bus, or any other mode of transportation that requires people to be in close proximity. Also avoid hotels, resorts, and other accommodations that have more than the recommended amount of people for a gathering. 

Don't Hoard Supplies

Avoid the pressure to over-prepare and don’t hoard food, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes, paper towels, thermometers, or masks. Only purchase what you need. This consumer frenzy is resulting in crowds of people in stores and making it impossible to practice social distancing. 

Don’t Allow Non-Family Members Into Your Home

Keep your home limited to immediate family members or housemates that already live there full-time. 

Don’t Get Your Kids Together With Other Kids

This is not the time for play-dates and sleepovers, especially if you cannot guarantee they will practice social distancing at all times. Remember, it’s OK to tell your children “no.” 

What This Means For You

We are all having to adjust our daily lives and make sacrifices to slow the spread of the coronavirus. While learning a “new normal” is never easy, with time, things will get better.

Making a commitment to practice social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet from others is one precautionary measure we can all take to help protect our loved ones and keep our health care systems from becoming overwhelmed. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Sara Lindberg, M.Ed
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on mental health, fitness, nutrition, and parenting.