Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation


As the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 4,475 across the United States and its territories on Monday, Americans were urged to take more precautions to protect themselves and curtail the spread of disease.

To describe these measures, one phrase in particular has rapidly become a staple of discussions regarding the coronavirus: social distancing.

“Social distancing is defined by the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] as not having close contact with one another [within about 6 feet],” Dr. Stephen DeWitt, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s Emergency Department medical director, wrote in a Monday email. “When a person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets of an infected person can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or can possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Dubois County still does not have a confirmed case of the spreading coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean residents should ignore intensifying recommendations handed down by the CDC and government leaders, which now include Gov. Eric Holcomb’s temporary closing of in-person dining across Indiana and President Donald Trump’s urging of citizens to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more people.

“Avoid close contact with people who are sick,” DeWitt wrote. “Put distance between yourself and other people to ensure you don’t spread COVID-19 in your community. Take steps to protect others by staying home if you’re sick, except to get medical care.”

For those who can’t stay home, DeWitt encouraged them to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after they’ve been in a public place or after blowing their noses, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, he advised, adding that all surfaces of the hands should be covered and rubbed together until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, he wrote.

What kind of difference could these measures make? There’s a chart for that. According to a PBS NewsHour graph, the precautions aim to flatten the pandemic’s curve, while decreasing the height of the peak and delaying it. This would slow the spread and reduce the burden on hospitals.

But as Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University, points out in a prepared statement, physical distancing does not mean social isolation.

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies — with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today — social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

Khubchandani encouraged people to engage in alternative activities that keep their minds and bodies active. These include things like walking in nature, listening to music and singing, dancing or biking, yoga or meditation, taking virtual tours of museums and places of interest, sketching and painting, reading books or novels, solving puzzles or playing board games, trying new recipes and learning about other cultures.

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