Living six feet apart: the importance and effects of social distancing

Social distancing saves lives and prevents the spread of the novel coronavirus


Shelby Pennington

Illustration by Shelby Pennington.

Sydney Randall, News Editor

As the novel coronavirus spreads through Kentuckiana, two words keep appearing everywhere: social distancing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing is “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” 

Practicing social distancing will save lives and has been shown to slow the spread of viruses.

Pamela Connerly, the coordinator of biology programs at IU Southeast, shared what she said are best practices for social distancing.

“These actions include working or taking classes from home, not going to gatherings of people such as parties, sporting events, or religious services, limiting trips to stores, and not visiting people who are particularly at risk for the virus,” she said.

Connerly also stressed the importance of social distancing throughout our community.

“Timing is very important here,” she said. “If the virus spreads quickly through our community, then there will be a spike in people infected with the virus and more people could be in need of intensive medical care than our hospitals can handle.”

Michelle Matern, the health department administrator at the Scott County Health Department, urged people in Kentuckiana to start practicing social distancing if they have not already started.

“Our numbers are starting to skyrocket,” she said. “Social distancing is going to save our healthcare system from being overwhelmed and understaffed.”

Stopping the Spread

As someone who works at a local health department, Matern believes that not enough people throughout the community are practicing social distancing.

“If your life has not been changed or affected since Indiana’s Stay-At-Home Order then you are not doing it right,” she said. 

Matern said individuals should only leave their house for the essentials, which include work, home, food and medical treatment.

“Social distancing plays a major role in fighting the disease,” she said. “Even when people are at essential places, social distancing should be practiced as much as possible.”

Since the novel coronavirus is spread by droplets from an infected person, Matern advised standing six feet away from an infected person. 

“Being six feet away from an infected person would lower your risk of contracting the disease,” she said.

Social distancing would not only help lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus, it would also help lessen the amount of patients going into healthcare facilities.

“If we could stop the spread right now and not have anyone else contract the disease, our healthcare industry would not become overloaded and patients would get proper care and treatment,” Matern said.

Matern strongly recommended that everyone needs to practice social distancing, especially since now is a time where virtual communication is easier than ever.

“Social distancing should be the easiest it has ever been with all of the video and virtual technologies that are available to us,” she said. “However, it takes everyone doing their part, not just a few select groups.”

Campus and Community Effects

Julie Mattingly, an assistant professor in the IUS School of Nursing, provided insight into the effects social distancing could have on both the IUS campus and the community.

“Our campus and community are interconnected, and the actions taken or not taken on campus can cause a domino effect that can either be positive or negative,” she said.

Mattingly then stressed the importance of social distancing in regards to staying healthy and protecting those around us.

“By social distancing, we are slowing the spread of infection and protecting those in our community who are vulnerable like the elderly or those with limited immune system function while also doing our part to make sure that our healthcare system does not become overwhelmed,” she said.

Mattingly also shared the seriousness of practicing social distancing from a nurse’s perspective.

“From a nursing perspective, it is imperative that the public heed the mandate for social distancing,” she said. “If social distancing is ignored, the number of cases of the coronavirus will continue to increase, which will eventually overwhelm the healthcare system and cause PPE supplies and other equipment to be depleted.”

Mattingly then provided tips to students about practicing social distancing.

“Stay at home,” she said. “If you must go out to do essential activities, like grocery shopping, keep your distance and try to avoid times when there would be a lot of people in the store.” 

Mattingly also recommends washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently and avoiding touching your face.

To make sure you are well-informed about the COVID-19 pandemic, Mattingly said to make sure you are following reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

“The constant news about the pandemic can be overwhelming, and some sources are spreading misinformation,” she said.

More Than Staying Six Feet Apart

Connerly shared more social distancing measures that need to be focused on that may not be thought of straight away when the words “social distancing” are discussed.

“It seems like when we talk about social distancing right now we are focused more on the responsibilities of individuals to keep six feet apart,” she said. “Other measures that go along with keeping our distance include disinfecting surfaces, washing all parts of our hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds and covering sneezes in an elbow or tissue and then throwing the tissue away.”

Connerly added that even just turning away from someone who is coughing or sneezing can help. 

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are touched frequently with soap and water or a disinfectant spray can help prevent the virus from spreading as well.

“Maintaining social distancing and general good hygiene behaviors can prevent the spread of the virus so that fewer people become infected,” she said. 

As governments and organizations have already taken more official steps to require social distancing like canceling sporting events and concerts, closing schools and closing restaurants for dine-in service, Connerly said that the next steps are up to the community.

“It is up to all of us to do the next step of staying at home and only going out to essential stores and businesses when it really is essential,” she said. “If we prevent the spread of the virus, we help ensure that medical professionals and hospitals are able to fully treat each severe case of the virus, which will mean fewer lives lost.”