As Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak encouraged the continuation of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and extended the stay-at-home mandate to at least April 30, Touro University Nevada’s Dr. Amy Stone answers some of the most commonly asked questions about social distancing.
According to Dr. Stone, we should think of this as “physical distancing,” not “social distancing.” It is essential to stay present in our relationships with others through means other than meeting in person, she added.
How is social distancing an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
This virus is spread through respiratory droplets. This means that the virus gets into the moisture in our breath, saliva, and nasal mucas.Every time we breathe out, some of those droplets escape into our surrounding environment. Scientists have looked at how far these droplets spread when someone breathes, coughs or sneezes, and found that most droplets fall within six feet. What this means for social distancing is that if people stay about six feet apart, the chances of coming in contact with COVID-19 droplets diminishes dramatically. Another way COVID-19 spreads is when respiratory droplets fall on a surface or are transferred from a hand to a surface. Social distancing also decreases the number of times people touch a surface because people are avoiding places that generally have more people in a close area (movie theaters, casinos, restaurants, etc.).
What if I live with other people? Should I not get within six feet of them either?
The people you live with are considered close contacts. This means that you and they are touching the same surfaces, and are generally being within six feet of each other. Since the touching of household surfaces cannot be avoided, you are going to be sharing the germs. What this all means is that you and the people you live with are generally considered to have the same exposures and mostly share a germ pool. It’s ok to get within 6 feet of the people you live with as long as you are both feeling well and healthy. If someone in your household is feeling sick or running a fever, the CDC recommends isolating them if possible. Having them stay in a designated bedroom and use a designated bathroom can help reduce the risk of spread to you. Also, after handling anything that the sick individual has touched (examples: used facial tissues, silverware, glasses), be sure to immediately wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water.
What are some of the activities we can still do while practicing social distancing?
You can do anything that you feel well enough to do as long as you keep social distancing in mind. Hiking, walking in the park, taking a scenic drive, going for a jog, and taking the dogs for a stroll are all fine to do if you can keep six feet of distance between you and people outside your household. This is a perfect time to utilize the myriad of online resources available from various museums and art galleries that have their collections online. Many interactions that we would typically have, such as study groups, happy hours, and playdates, can happen digitally through apps like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom.
Can I still have someone come over to my house if they remain six feet away from me the entire time?
This is being discouraged by the Governor, and you need to acknowledge the risks. The risks are that the people you are bringing into your home have a different set of exposures than you do and that they will touch surfaces in your home. This is a problem for you, the other members of your household, and your visitor. Some ways to help control these risks are to clean the surfaces you and your visitor will be around before and after they visit, wearing cloth masks help keep the respiratory droplets from spreading into the air and onto surfaces, and to avoid sharing food or drinks. These actions do not eliminate the risks of exposure. It is critical now to maintain our social interactions for our mental well-being but to do so in a way that is safe for all parties involved.
How often should I wash my hands?
I wish there were an easy answer to this question like “every 20 minutes,” but there isn’t. The frequency is based on your activities. You should wash your hands when:
- they are visibly dirty
- before and after you touch your face, apply make-up, put in or take out contacts, apply lip balm, etc.
- before and after you handle something that will be in contact with a mucosal surface (eyes, nose, mouth, genitourinary areas) such as glasses, masks, toothbrushes, items for intercourse
- after you use the toilet
- before you handle, prepare or eat food and drinks
- before and after any sexual activity
- when you return home from being out
- after you finish petting or holding your pets
- after handling trash or waste including animal waste such as a litter box for a cat or picking up dog poop
This is not a comprehensive list, so a good general rule is to wash your hands when you change activities.
Should I avoid being near my older relatives to prevent them from getting sick?
This is a good precaution to protect your loved ones. If you go out in public for any reason and you can avoid being around them in person, that would likely reduce their risk of catching the virus. However, using the same precautions that we are using for ourselves can help our at-risk contacts as well when we cannot keep our distance from them. Frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face and surfaces, and wearing a cloth mask to keep your respiratory droplets to yourself will all reduce the risk for your loved one. Keeping in contact with them through the phone, social media, and video conferencing is crucial for you and them. Likely, since they are at-risk and spending less time around others than they usually would, they may be feeling isolated and alone. Reaching out to them to talk, chat, and do things together through the internet can help reduce the feelings of isolation and help keep everyone’s mental health in a good place through this challenging time.