Just a few short weeks ago, many of us had never even heard of the public health term “social distancing.” Now it’s a part of our collective new reality.
“Socialization is at the core of being human. Keeping physical distance right now is key to protect ourselves, our loved ones and those more vulnerable in our communities; however, equally important is our need and desire to interact with each other.”
– Michael Grabinski, MD, MPH
What is social distancing?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging Americans to remain out of congregate settings (including the workplace and school), avoid mass gatherings (including joyful events like weddings and meaningful rituals like religious observances) and strive to maintain a distance of approximately 6 feet from others when possible.
Why should we do it?
By preventing those who may be infected with the novel coronavirus from coming in close contact with healthy individuals, social distancing reduces opportunity for disease transmission. Not only does this protect those who are high-risk, it helps to minimize the current surge on our healthcare resources. Recent studies* have suggested that the majority of COVID-19 cases were caused by people with mild or no symptoms spreading the virus to others. This happens because people can be infected and contagious for 2 to 4 days**, without noticing any symptoms themselves.
Who should do it?
Everyone. Even if you’re young, healthy and not in a high-risk group, there is still a chance that you are carrying the virus, minus symptoms, and could be unknowingly spreading it to the more vulnerable communities. Public health experts agree that maintaining social distance right now, with its potential to slow the infection rate, is as altruistic as it is necessary. We can all do our part to stop the spread and protect our families, friends and communities.
How can we do it better?
1. Let’s start with the name
The idea of “social distancing” is kind of a paradox. In these uncertain times, when we absolutely need each other more than ever, we’re expected to live, work and learn apart?
“It’s all in how you frame it,” says Dr. Grabinski. “That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we refer to it as ‘physical distancing’ vs. ‘social distancing.’ Because while the goal is to prevent physical transmission of the virus, the hope is that people will remain connected socially—and we need that more than ever right now.”
2. Distancing 2.0
Though overuse of technology has been associated with feelings of isolation and loneliness, technology is now the bridge to keeping us connected—to everything from essential medical care to our workplaces and classrooms to fulfilling social lives—all of which will empower us to get through this with strength and positivity.
3. Staying social
During these uncertain times, it’s easy to fall into a rut physically, mentally and emotionally. “One way to care for yourself and enhance your overall well-being,” says Dr. Grabinski, “is through meaningful interactions that support each other and our own desire to still feel human.” The corresponding health benefits are backed by research. Some examples:
- The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world’s longest studies on health and happiness, has found that participants who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.
- The “Roseto Effect” refers to famous research done in the town of Roseto, PA, where a small community of Italian immigrants whose low heart attack rates from 1955 to 1963 mystified researchers when compared to Americans with similar risk factors. The statistics, however, began to shift towards the higher national average in later decades as the immigrants moved further from family and community. The conclusion? Strong community ties had a health protective benefit.
- A 2018 study from the European Society of Cardiology found that loneliness is bad for the heart and a strong predictor of premature death. It’s worth noting that the higher risk, which impacts both men and women, is associated with feeling lonely, not necessarily living alone. Bottom line: the mind is a powerful force over matter.
4. Staying healthy
Relationships aren’t the only thing that matters right now. Taking good care of yourself, physically and mentally, should always be a top priority. Things to consider:
- Have a sense of routine: Consistency can help enhance our sense of control at a time when we feel powerless. At a minimum, try to develop routines around eating at regular intervals, exercising and sleeping.
- Manage your anxiety: Chronic stress can make the body more susceptible to illness. Research shows that practices like meditation, yoga and guided imagery can turn down the body’s physiological stress response and even turn on the body’s “relaxation response.”
- Get enough sleep: Sleep boosts our immune system and helps the body fight off infection. 7–9 hours of sleep for adults has been shown to improve memory and cognitive health, as well as emotional and hormone regulation.
- Take advantage of virtual care: Whether you suspect COVID-19, the flu or have a minor primary care issue, like a rash or pink eye, 98point6 is the best first stop to evaluate your condition. By taking advantage of our text-based method of care, an illness can be contained when it counts and you can avoid unnecessary exposure—while still getting the trusted guidance, prescriptions and peace of mind you need.