The COVID-19 pandemic came as a surprise, and many people —across the world —were affected by it; directly & indirectly.
As the pandemic spread, terms such as “Social Distancing”, “Asymptomatic”, “Quarantine” and “Symptomatic” found their place in everyday conversations. Of these terms, “Social distancing” was so widely used that it ranked among the 25 most-used words in the English language in 2020(1).
Whereas, social distancing became synonymous with COVID-19; it’s not the only infectious disease that necessitates this practice.
1. What is Social Distancing?
Social Distancing also known as physical distancing is a public health practice aimed at preventing contact between infected and healthy people so as to reduce and prevent transmissions（2）.
Social distancing takes many forms including avoiding large groups of people outdoors and indoors.
As regards infections such as the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing was meant to slow down the outbreak to in high-risk populations such as older adults, people with chronic diseases, or congenital conditions.
2. How Social Distancing Works
Public health agencies such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC)
recommend that people keep a distance of at least 6 feet between themselves and others, an equivalent of about 2 meters or two arm's length
. This recommendation is because infection spreads among people within six feet of one another
3. Is Social Distancing Effective?
The short answer is yes.
At the height of Covid-19, measures like social distancing were not taken up by people because they did not understand how it works or whether it was effective. Moreover, many had not been educated on why it is effective. However, the measure though not perfect, worked and saved many lives.
Two cities in China, Wuhan and Guangzhou, provide a contrasting example of the effectiveness of COVID-19 measures.
Guangzhou implemented strict social distancing measures earlier than Wuhan, which did so a month later. The results were obvious; Guangzhou has a much better outcome.
In a 2-week period, social distancing regulation in 46 countries prevented more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 in a two-week- Anderson center（3）.
It's important to note that the effectiveness of social distancing can vary depending on how well it is implemented and how consistently it is practiced within a community. That said social distancing is not a panacea for limiting infection and should be done with other preventive measures.
4. Effective Tips for Social Distancing
Here are some tips for effective social distancing in situations where the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 is possible（4）.
Learn to correctly maintain physical distance: As a rule of thumb, stay at least 6 feet (approximately 2-meters) away for the next person. Some studies recommend higher distancing to up to 3-meters. This way you help reduce the risk of infection.
Work from Home: If feasible and where company policy allows, work or study from home to minimize the need to be close to groups of people opt for virtual meetings on platforms such as zoom, Skype, or other convenient platforms. This is a sure way of placing yourself, or others in danger when infected.
Avoid Crowded Places such as Gatherings: Avoid large gatherings or events such as weddings, or funerals sport events. If gatherings are necessary, try to keep 2 feet of space between yourself and others at all times, and wear a mask5. Masks are known to prevent droplet dispersion in the air.
If you get infected self-isolate: If you test positive, self-isolation at home or other designated areas is an effective way of preventing further infection in healthy individuals. Self-isolate until symptoms subside or until when recommended by your health provider.
5. Other Additional Tips for Effective Social Distancing
Regularly wash Hands: Regularly wash hands: Regularly washing hands is the best way of preventing many infections. The recommended way of washing hands is done in five steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, & then dry.
Stay Informed: Stay updated on local health guidelines and follow the recommendations provided by public health officials. Moreover, regularly check on media update on any disease outbreaks.
6.Social Distancing Limits
Although social distancing is an effective way of reducing infectious diseases from spreading; it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Here are some of challenges with social distancing:
Mental Health concerns: Isolation coupled with uncertainty about the future can contribute to increased anxiety, and depression that can potentially trigger stress or depression especially in periods of prolonged quarantines. This distress likely affects people without a support system — such as family or friends —which causes them to feel lonely and left out.7(7)
Communication difficulties: In face of uncertainty as was during the Covid-19 pandemic, effective communication, especially when a face-to-face interaction is required can be impaired. This leads to misunderstandings, the spread of fake news, and hinder adherence to public health guidelines.
Risk of Chronic loneliness: Extended durations of social distancing can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. This can result to negative effects on mental health and well-being（8）. Some of the consequences of prolonged loneliness include: heart problems, depression, higher stress, decreased memory, and potential for drug abuse.
Impact on Vulnerable Populations: Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, poor, homeless families, and those with underlying health conditions, may face increased difficulties in accessing essential services.
7.Embracing Social Distancing to Save Lives
When properly practiced, social distancing saves lives. This is not a theoretical claim; it has direct impact as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. As inconvenient as it may sound for some people, but, learning this vital health practice should be taught to everyone.
1.Herrera, T. (2020a, December 18). The 20 phrases that defined 2020
. The New York Times.
4.CDC. (2020, February 11). COVID-19 and your health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
5.CDC. (2020, February 11). COVID-19 and your health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
6.Key facts and figures.
(n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2023, from
7.Orben, A. , Tomova, L. , & Blakemore, S. J. (2020). The effects of social deprivation on adolescent social development and mental health. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4, 634–640. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar] [Ref list].
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