Your Guide to Social Distancing

Published: April 01, 2020

Michael F. Parry, MD, Director of Infectious Disease, and F. Carl Mueller, MD, Associate Chair, Psychiatry

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Humans are social by nature. When we can't make normal human contact, we begin to feel lonely and even anxious. 

Below, you'll find answers to some of the most common questions about social distancing and tips on how to stay connected to loved ones in spite of the challenges surrounding COVID-19.

How much distance is “social distance?”

The current recommendation is to keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and another person for an extended period of time. You don’t have to avoid people, but you should reduce unnecessary contact, especially with the elderly.

Can I go shopping for food and supplies?

Yes, you can leave your home and go get supplies, but don’t bring the whole family. Try going to the grocery store during off-peak hours, when it's less likely to be crowded, and wipe down the handles on the shopping cart or basket when you shop. If you can't, make sure to wash your hands immediately after.

Should I be avoiding big box stores?

Although it’s convenient to have everything under one roof, long lines mean more potential exposure. Some stores are limiting the number of people who can be in the store at any one time, which helps. Gauge the situation and consider smaller businesses that may be less crowded. Small business need our support, especially now.

Can I walk my dog?

Yes, you can should walk your dog, not only for their needs, but for your own. Fresh air is good for you!

Cell phone with people icons for social distancingShould I cross the street to avoid people?

No. You don’t need to go that far.

Can I have sex with my significant other?

If you aren’t showing any symptoms right now, yes, but it’s a gray area. People can transmit COVID-19 without having symptoms, especially when engaging in direct contact.

Gyms have been shut down, but can I go for a group run or meet to work out with friends?

Yes, as long as you can comfortably keep 6 feet of distance apart.

Is food delivery safe? What about takeout?

Yes, food delivery and takeout are safe as long as the food is prepared in accordance with normal standards. Don’t eat with your hands or touch the delivery bag then touch your mouth. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after you eat.

Is package delivery from Amazon and other retailers safe?

Yes, but viruses can live on cardboard. When you receive your package, open the box, take out the items, and immediately wash your hands. Dispose of the box outside of the house and wash your hands.

Can I visit my elderly relatives?

The federal government is asking visitors to stay away from nursing homes and retirement or long-term care facilities unless they're going to provide critical assistance. Because children are more likely to be asymptomatic, social distancing between children and the elderly is especially important. Consider virtual visits — whether it's video calls or streaming movies that you all watch together.

Are kids’ playdates okay?

Play dates are risky. It's time to put them off for a few weeks and focus on spending time with those who live under your roof. Because the unknown can cause anxiety in children, here are some ways to help them cope.

What about having close friends over to visit?

Avoid social visits for now. Once again, think virtual — maybe have a video dinner party with friends.

How can we stay connected?

In the era of social distancing, we need to find ways around this barrier to stay connected. Here are some suggestions:

Be alone, together. You can share conversations about your hobbies and your activities over the phone. Connect on similar interests. Avoid talking excessively about COVID-19 because you're allowed to take a break from the topic.

Use video as a lifeline. Reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. Video knows no distance. Use networking applications like Zoom and Google Hangouts to have virtual parties, or play games with your friends and family—like chess. Start that exercise program with one of the many virtual classes offered by health clubs.

Get outdoors. A good walk in the woods or other outside activity can make you feel part of something larger. Walk with a friend—but maintain a distance of six feet apart.

Make the most of family time. If you are with your family for weeks in a tight place, consider joint house projects like painting walls or building things.

Make the most of alone time, too. Not all things need to be done with others. Take a virtual tour of a museum, read, learn something new. Cook, do your hobbies, or start that exercise program.

Don't overdo it. Try to avoid drinking too much, eating too much, or smoking. Instead, focus on ways to stay grounded during uncertain times like these.

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