How to Practice Social Distancing and Stay Sane Doing It

Last Saturday night, I had drinks with three of my friends. On the internet.

Instead of meeting up IRL, we opened our laptops and caught up on video chat—because social distancing is the responsible thing to do amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the CDC, “social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” On March 15, the organization recommended canceling any event with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

Some may wonder why they’d need to stay home if they feel fine. Perhaps they’re not worried because it seems to affect the elderlyimmunocompromised people, and those with heart and lung disease most severely, per the CDC. But Idris Elba felt no coronavirus symptoms, the actor revealed, when he tested positive following exposure to someone who had it. People can carry the virus without symptoms, and potentially infect more vulnerable people around them without even knowing they had it.

By now, we’ve all learned how to protect ourselves from Covid-19 (wash those handsdon’t touch that face, and disinfect your phone!). But according to public health experts, the best way to protect all of us is to stay home.

“Our problem is, we’re living in a country where there’s not enough tests,” says Diana Zuckerman, PhD, a public health expert and president of the National Center for Health Research, referring to the exceptionally low number of people tested in America thus far in comparison to other affected locations. Social distancing is a proven way to “flatten the curve,” or slow the rapid exponential rise of the coronavirus in the U.S. As the Washington Postexplained on March 13, if the number of cases kept doubling every three days, by May 2020 there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States.

The good news is that there’s plenty of ways to stay connected while you’re social distancing, from the Netflix Party extension that lets you watch movies virtually with your friends, to streaming yoga classes. These tips will help you keep your kids busy, and assist you with maintaining sanity while spending round-the-clock time with your spouse…and no one else, or remain calm if you’re actually alone.

You can go outside—just remember the 6-foot rule.

When cabin fever sets in, Zuckerman says spending time outside is fine—IF, and only if, you’re still maintaining a distance from others. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space, the lawn is your oyster. For those in cities, consider a wide-open space like a park (if you’ve got kids, avoid playgrounds, even they’re empty, as the virus can live on surfaces for up to several days).

Zuckerman says she still takes walks in areas that aren’t populated. But, if you’re jogging on a city park trail, basically alone, and a bicyclist inadvertently passes close by, she says not to worry. “If it’s 4 feet away, and not 6, don’t feel like a failure. As long as the other person doesn’t touch you, or sneeze within droplet distance.”

You can go to the grocery store, too. BUT…

Keep in mind that it’s harder to follow that 6-foot rule in there. Some stores, such as Albertsons, now have special shopping hours for the elderly and other vulnerable people. Still, Zuckerman recommends not going again until you really need to—to protect yourself, too. “Most of the time, it’s fine,” she says. “But the people who are stocking the shelves may be infected and not know it yet. We shouldn’t use cash, and avoid anyone touching your card when you insert it.”


Order delivery, if it’s still available, but with caution.

There’s zero evidence that the coronavirus is transmittable through food. But your delivery person doesn’t have the privilege of working from home, so they’re forced to come into contact with lots of people who may be positive for the virus. Whether it’s delivered food or groceries, consider taking steps to minimize the interaction for both your safety. That may mean asking they leave it outside the door, if you’ve paid through an app like Seamless (and remember what Zuckerman said about avoiding cash).

Consider limiting your news intake.

New information about the coronavirus pandemic emerges every hour, and it’s important to stay informed on school closures and possible shelter-in-place directives from state governments. But staying glued to the news cycle all day can push your stress levels even higher.

Flaherty suggests checking the news once a day (twice, if you must). “Watching it over and over again creates a constant sense of crisis within us,” she says. “As long as you’re safe and you’re up to date with information, being bombarded by this constant crisis isn’t necessarily helpful.”

Remember, social distancing has saved American lives before.

Yes, closed restaurants and canceled concerts are a bummer, and most people would prefer to be out and about. But for a lesson on how effective social distancing can be, consider what happened during the flu pandemic of 1918. By the end of summer that year, as the illness started spreading outward from the military to the general population, St. Louis decided to cancel its Liberty Loan parade (an event held across U.S. cities to help pay for World War 1) in an attempt at containment. Meanwhile, Philadelphia officials decided the war bonds-selling show must go on, and around 200,000 people flocked to Broad Street to march, celebrate, and stand together in close proximity on September 28.

Within two days after the parade, as Smithsonian magazine recounts, every single hospital bed in Philadelphia was occupied. A week later, about 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu, ultimately, it killed 10,000. After St. Louis’ quarantine efforts, including skipping their parade, only 700 people died of the flu there.

“We still don’t know how infectious this is,” Zuckerman says. “We know it can survive more than a day on surfaces. We know the main mode of transition is touching, sneezing, or coughing. But what kind of viral load do you need to be exposed to in order to be infected? We just don’t know.” Global health experts are still learning more about how the coronavirus is transmitted and presents symptoms. While “there’s different ways to flatten the curve,” Zuckerman says, “the only one we know right now is to avoid people.”

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