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Published: May, 2020; Vol 16, Num 12

 

Why We’re Using Physical Distancing to Fight COVID-19

Whether at home or at work, we are being asked to “Keep Your Distance to Slow the Spread and Flatten the Curve.” While it may be disappointing to hear that so many sporting events, cruises, festivals and other gatherings have been cancelled, there is a public health reason for these measures. Limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These cancellations help stop or slow down the spread of disease, allowing the healthcare system to more readily care for patients over time.

What Is Physical or Social Distancing?

LIUNA General
President
Terry O'Sullivan

While social distancing has been described as limiting person-to-person contact to a minimum of six feet, safety and health professionals recognize that the more accurate term is physical distancing. Physical distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Cancelling events that are likely to draw crowds is an example of social distancing.

“We are encouraging all LIUNA members to practice physical distancing as much as possible both on and off the job,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “When practiced alongside other general precautions, physical distancing can help maintain the safety and health of members, their families and their LIUNA brothers and sisters on the job.”

Regardless of the terminology, the bottom line is that staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of getting COVID-19. Due to the nature of how viruses spread, maintaining space between you and others is one of the best tools we have to avoid being exposed and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 locally and globally. So as frustrating as it might be, do not gather in groups, stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings. When there are reports of COVID-19 spreading in your area, limit close contact with anyone outside your household. Wear respirators or face masks where physical distancing can’t be practiced, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The Science Behind Distancing

COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about six feet) for a prolonged period. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets from their mouth or nose launch into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs.

We already know that people can be infected and unknowingly spread the virus before they get sick. Recent studies indicate that people can also be infected, never get symptoms and still spread the virus to others. This is why it’s important to keep your distance from friends, family, loved ones and others, even if you have no symptoms. You could be responsible for spreading the virus to someone else and not even realize it. Strict physical distancing is especially important around people who are at higher risk for serious health complications from COVID-19, such as older adults and those with chronic illnesses like heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Tips for Following Physical and Social Distancing

  • Follow guidance from local authorities.
  • When shopping for food or medicine at the grocery store or pharmacy, stay at least six feet away from others. Consider a grocery delivery service. Use mail-order for medications, if possible.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face covering when in public. Maintain distancing even when you wear a face covering.
  • Avoid large and small gatherings in private places and public spaces, such as a friend’s house or park. This applies to people of all ages, including teens and younger adults. Children should not have in-person playdates while school is out.
  • Avoid any kind of public transportation, ridesharing or taxis, if possible.

COVID-19 and Surfaces

It may be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. COVID-19 can live for hours or days on a surface, depending on factors such as sunlight and humidity. Physical distancing helps limit contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces.

  • Continue making use of virtual and electronic connections when possible to work from home, take online classes or visit with loved ones.
  • Continue exercising caution by not participating in conferences and large meetings in person.

By following the tips and advice listed above, you can do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and make a big difference in your health and the health of those around you.

Although the risk of getting sick or severely ill is different for everyone, anyone can get and spread COVID-19. Therefore, everyone has a role to play in slowing the spread and protecting themselves, their family and their community.

[Walter Jones is the Fund’s Director of Occupational Safety & Health.]