Social Distancing FAQ: How It Helps Prevent COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Steps We Can Take to Protect Ourselves
Reviewed May 19, 2020
There are many things we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus): washing our hands, coughing into our elbows, avoiding touching our faces, staying home if we’re feeling sick and social distancing. But what is social distancing? These frequently asked questions explain how to practice social distancing in order to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community.
General Information About Social Distancing
Q: What is social distancing?
A: Social distancing is the practice of purposefully reducing close contact between people. According to the CDC, social distancing means:
- Remaining out of “congregate settings” as much as possible.
- Avoiding mass gatherings.
- Maintaining distance of about 6 feet from others when possible.
Q: Why is social distancing important?
A: Social distancing is crucial for preventing the spread of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19 (coronavirus). COVID-19 can spread through coughing, sneezing and close contact. By minimizing the amount of close contact we have with others, we reduce our chances of catching the virus and spreading it to our loved ones and within our community.
Q: Who is social distancing important for?
A: Social distancing is important for all of us, but those of us who are at higher risk of serious complications caused by COVID-19 should be especially cautious about social distancing. People who are at high risk of complications include:
- Older adults.
- People who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.
Q: What is “flattening the curve”? What does it have to do with social distancing?
A: “Flattening the curve” refers to reducing the number of people who are sick at one time. If there are high surges in the number of COVID-19 cases all at once, health care systems and resources could potentially become overwhelmed. Efforts that help stop COVID-19 from spreading rapidly – like social distancing – help keep the number of people who are sick at one time as low as possible.
Q: When should I practice social distancing?
A: The best time to begin social distancing is before an illness like COVID-19 becomes widespread throughout your community. Each community’s situation is unique, so it is important to follow the guidance of local government, health departments and health care providers. For the latest information on COVID-19 policies in North Carolina, visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website.
The advice below is applicable if you are symptom-free and have reasonable confidence that you have not had exposure to COVID-19. Always follow the guidance of local government, health departments and your health care providers.
Visiting Public Spaces
Q: How can I practice social distancing in the workplace?
A: When possible, keeping about 6 feet of distance between yourself and others is key. It’s also important to practice other preventative measures such as washing hands, avoiding touching your face, coughing into your elbow and staying home if you feel sick. Depending on your job and your community’s situation, working from home may be an option. Always follow local guidance.
Q: How can my child practice social distancing at school or at college?
A: Many schools and universities in the U.S. have postponed in-person classes and moved to online instruction for the remainder of the school year. It’s important to follow local guidance, as each community’s situation is unique. It’s important for people of all ages to follow preventative measures, including staying about 6 feet away from others, avoiding touching your face, washing your hands and coughing into your elbow.
Q: Should I be concerned about going to the grocery store?
A: In any place where large numbers of people gather, there is potential risk for disease transmission. When you visit the grocery store, keep about 6 feet between yourself and others and use prevention techniques like avoiding touching your face and washing your hands. If possible, visit the store at times when there are likely to be fewer people shopping.
Q: Should I take public transportation?
A: If you have the option, driving yourself, walking to work or working from home can help reduce the number of people who are using public transportation, which benefits you and your community. In any of these situations, it’s very important to keep distance between yourself and others in addition to practicing other preventative measures.
Q: Should I stop visiting restaurants and bars?
A: Currently in North Carolina, restaurants and bars have been closed until further notice. Always follow local guidance. Avoiding public places as much as possible helps prevent diseases from spreading. If dining out is a non-essential activity, then it is generally in the best interest of you and your loved ones to avoid it.
Q: Can I still go to the gym?
A: Currently in North Carolina, gyms have been closed until further notice. Always follow local guidance. Alternatives could include exercising in your home or yard or walking through your neighborhood. If you do go to the gym, wipe down and sanitize your equipment, keep distance between yourself and others, avoid touching other people and practice other preventative techniques.
Q: What about events and places where many people gather, such as concerts, festivals, sporting events and churches?
A: Risk of disease transmission is much higher in large groups of people. Currently in North Carolina, gatherings of over 10 people are prohibited in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading rapidly. Avoiding these gatherings are generally in the best interest of protecting yourself, your loved ones and your community. Always follow local guidance.
Meeting with Others
Q: Should I stop visiting my elderly relatives and friends?
A: Older adults are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19. Limiting their exposure as much as possible to those who may be sick or who may be carrying the disease is crucial. This is a great opportunity to try other methods of connecting, such as over the phone or through a video chat.
Q: What about social distancing with other people in my household?
A: Avoiding close contact within a household is almost impossible, and social distancing is mainly focused on large groups. However, if someone in your household is sick, it’s important to minimize close contact with them as much as is reasonable.
Q: Should I stop meeting up with 1 or 2 friends? Should I stop dating?
A: While meeting up with another person who also is symptom-free may be alright in some situations, keep in mind that risk of disease transmission is higher in public places. Now may be a good time to consider other methods of connecting with others, such as over the phone or through a video chat.
Q: Can I have a small group of my extended family and/or friends over to my house?
A: If possible, it’s best to postpone these kinds of gatherings and look for alternative ways to connect. Avoiding non-essential gatherings is important for preventing the spread of disease.
Q: Should my family and friends cancel big gathering events like weddings and birthday parties?
A: Currently in North Carolina, meetings of over 10 people are prohibited in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading rapidly. Always follow local guidance. While it’s difficult to postpone important events like these, it’s also very important to protect our loved ones – especially our loved ones who are most vulnerable. It may be best to postpone or alter your plans.
Q: If I’m avoiding in-person gatherings, how can I stay connected to others?
A: There are many ways you can connect with friends: phone calls, text messages, emails and video chats are all great virtual options. While physical social distancing is important for our health, so is social interaction – trying alternative ways to stay connected is a good way to take care of your emotional health.
If You Are Experiencing Symptoms
Q: How should I approach social distancing if I start to feel sick?
A: If you begin to experience symptoms, it’s important to stay home and distance yourself from others. Always follow the guidance of your health care providers and local government.
Q: Can I have visitors while I am in quarantine?
A: Having visitors should be avoided as much as possible. Quarantining is an important way to protect your loved ones and community from picking up the disease; visitors are at high risk of catching the illness from you.
Q: Can I go outside in my yard if I am in quarantine?
A: Depending on where you live and your community’s situation, going outside and getting some fresh air in your yard may be safe. Always follow the guidance of your health care providers and local government.