Signage in a London Underground station recommending social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020
By now, we all know the drill: stay six feet apart, stay at home, STAY! (like a good obedient dog). Social distancing—or better, physical distancing (we can still stay close socially)—is a fact of life in social relationships in order to combat the coronavirus. It means allowing more space between people and sharing items less. People are complying with social-distancing measures not only out of a natural impulse to self-protect but also for altruistic motives aimed at protecting the vulnerable among us. A tendency to conform and an aversion to rule-breaking play a role too. Even people who, under normal circumstances, value their individual freedom more than safety or security are making an effort to adopt physical distancing. (For guidelines on how and why to do so, see the links below.)
Humans are not made for this, needless to say. So it is not surprising our societies are not organized in ways that make it easy to conduct life and work at (2–3) arms’ length. We are social creatures; we have basic needs to touch and be touched, to see each other face-to-face, to gather and associate. “Public health” may seem abstract, unless one works in the health care field or has a loved one suffering the effects of the pandemic. Physical distancing is especially hard on friends or family who are prevented from seeing each other because of visitation limits, such as at nursing homes.
Most people understand basically how infectious diseases spread and view the restrictions as reasonable, temporary limitations in response to a very contagious virus. We all hope the measures will save lives. But such physical distancing is unnatural and unsustainable in the longer term. Sheltering-in-place is for tornadoes. Mask-wearing is for Halloween. People have a need to be among fellow humans in groups larger than 10—whether for religious or political or entertainment purposes.
We humans also are extremely creative. “We” invented the Internet, telecommunications, social media, etc. So we are evolving ways to conduct our lives—working from home, remote/distance learning, Zoom calls, as well as new ways of greeting. Government-mandated social isolation is vital for now, but it alone won’t get us through this crisis. Not everyone is staying home: a veritable army of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers; truckers and delivery drivers, essential-business workers, farmers and first-responders, medical equipment makers, lab researchers, grocery store cashiers, and others are, of necessity, going out and getting things done. As most of us hunker down, let’s remember to appreciate them.
Image credit: © Chris Aubrey/Alamy
- The Sociology of Surviving the Coronavirus
An exploration of how social distancing, a measure vital to combating the coronavirus, impacts individuals in their social realms.
(Source: The National Interest, March 16, 2020)
- Physical Distancing (Fact Sheet)
The basics of physical (social) distancing, from Canada’s public health agency; includes infographic.
(Source: Canada.ca, March 18, 2020)
- Public Health Recommendations for People in U.S. Communities Exposed to a Person with Known or Suspected COVID-19, other than Health Workers or other Critical Infrastructure Workers
The serious stuff: guidance from the CDC on how to navigate the present crisis in U.S. communities.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; updated March 30, 2020)
- The Dos and Don’ts of “Social Distancing”
An interview-based primer on the ins and outs of social distancing “aimed toward those who are symptom-free and not part of an at-risk group”—updated to reflect later guidance.
(Source: The Atlantic; March 12, updated March 19, 2020)
- Public Health Expert: Covid-19 and Social Distancing
Brief Q&A with a social epidemiologist on basics of social distancing as a public health measure (in both English and Spanish).
(Source: University of North Carolina–Greensboro, March 13, 2020)
- Self-Quarantine? Isolation? Social Distancing? What They Mean and When to Do Them
A concise explainer on the terminology and practices related to the efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Source: NPR, March 16, 2020)
- 27 Ways to Show Love to Others While Social Distancing
The popular medical website provides daily updates on the pandemic, but also helpful articles like this.
(Source: WebMD, April 3, 2020)
- Definition and Examples of Social Distance in Psychology
Not to be confused with social/physical distancing (in the public health sense)—social distance is already an established term in psychology.
(Source: ThoughtCo.com; updated July 3, 2019)