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WHAT IS SOCIAL DISTANCING AND HOW CAN IT SLOW THE SPREAD OF COVID-19?

To slow the spread of COVID-19 through U.S. communities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged Americans to practice “social distancing” measures. But what is social distancing, and how is it practiced?

For more information on the latest guidance, the Hub compiled information from the CDC and from Johns Hopkins experts Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and Tom Inglesby, the center’s director. Here’s what they had to say.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people in order to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. It can include large-scale measures like canceling group events or closing public spaces, as well as individual decisions such as avoiding crowds.

With COVID-19, the goal of social distancing right now is to slow down the outbreak in order to reduce the chance of infection among high-risk populations and to reduce the burden on health care systems and workers. Experts describe this as “flattening the curve,” which generally refers to the potential success of social distancing measures to prevent surges in illness that could overwhelm health care systems.

“The goal of social distancing in the U.S. should be to lower the pace and extent of spread of COVID-19 in any given city or community,” Inglesby wrote recently on Twitter. “If that can happen, then there will be less people with disease, and less people needing hospitalization and ventilators at any one time.”

How do I practice social distancing?

The CDC defines social distancing as it applies to COVID-19 as “remaining out of congregrate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

This means, says Rivers, “no hugs, no handshakes.”

It’s particularly important—and perhaps obvious—to maintain that same 6-foot distance from anyone who is demonstrating signs of illness, including coughing, sneezing, or fever.

Along with physical distance, proper hand-washing is important for protecting not only yourself but others around you—because the virus can be spread even without symptoms.

“Don’t wait for evidence that there’s circulation [of COVID-19] in your community,” says Rivers. “Go ahead and step up that hand-washing right now because it really does help to reduce transmission.”

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