What to know about social distancing strategies amid coronavirus outbreak

ByELLA TORRES via ABCNews logo
Thursday, March 19, 2020
What to know about social distancing strategies amid coronavirus outbreak
Subway passengers space out their seating during a during rush hour on a subway, March 17, 2020 in New York City. The subway is normally crowded but many people are staying home out of concern for the spread of coronavirus.

Social distancing is at the top of mind for many as countries across the globe are facing the novel coronavirus pandemic -- with countries aiming to tamp down on the spread without either a vaccine or treatment.

Social distancing is described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible." The World Health Organization urges the public to leave at least 3 feet, or 1 meter, between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

But as the situation continues to unravel, with many schools, restaurants, cafes and bars closing, questions about best practices have arisen, including how many people should.

Here is what two health experts -- Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security whose expertise includes infectious diseases, and Dr. Angela Baldwin, a pathology resident physician at Montefiore Health System and member of the ABC News Medical Unit -- say.

How close is too close?

Adalja recommends staying 6 feet, or 2 meters, away from others, as does the CDC. And any sort of mass gatherings, he said, should be postponed or canceled.

How should I handle grocery shopping?

If possible, try going to the grocery store early in the morning or on off-hours to avoid crowds, according to Adalja.

He also warned against wearing gloves while shopping.

"I think if you practice hand hygiene, well, you don't need to wear gloves," Adalja said, adding that it could give people a false sense of confidence and lead them to not properly practice hand hygiene.

What about delivery?

You want to avoid contact with others, so a good tip would be to have the delivery person leave the food outside your door, according to Baldwin. You should also be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after opening the food packaging and before eating.

Can I visit friends, or have friends over, if it's smaller than a group of 10?

Both Adalja and Baldwin said that gatherings of less than 10 are fine, so long as everyone is symptom-free and is practicing proper respiratory and hand hygiene. Ideally, everyone gathered would still be 6 feet away from others.

"Use common sense prevention tips at gathering," Adalja said, such as keeping surfaces clean.

And even if with friends, there should be no hand-shaking or contact greetings.

What to know about Coronavirus:

Can we still go to the park or for walks because it's outdoors?

Yes. Adalja said it was "fine to go outside, go to the park. You can go on walks."

Baldwin also said going to the park is fine and noted that exercise could be important during this time by boosting your immune system.

Just make sure to keep a safe distance of 6 feet from others.

Can I take the subway?

The public should be limiting their time on public transportation. However, for some, that's unavoidable. If that's the case, Adalja said to try not to sit near other people and wash your hands if you have to touch any surfaces.

If I live in a small apartment, do these rules still apply?

Yes, but do your best.

Make sure to scrub down surfaces, wash your hands and be mindful of symptoms to look out for, Adalja said.

If I live in a small town, do these rules still apply?


What should I absolutely be avoiding?

Any non-essential travel (including planes, public transportation or cruises) and crowded gatherings like parties or concerts, according to Baldwin.

How effective is social distancing?

Social distancing is effective in decreasing the rate of cases and the total number of cases, also known as flattening the curve, Baldwin said. When done properly, it will limit the spread of infection.

Adalja said while it may be difficult, it is important.

"It's disruptive to everybody's life and you try to have everybody comply with that realization," he said.

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