We all know someone who is struggling with social distancing. Someone who is going from store to store, sort of understanding the risk but unable to help themselves and just sit down.
It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s even understandable. Staying at home when you want to is one thing, but being made to do it makes you feel stressed and, well, isolated.
But let’s be totally clear: it’s dangerous.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing, or physical distancing, is the practice of maintaining a physical distance to prevent the spread of contagious disease. It’s not the same as quarantine, which is a complete lack of contact with the outside world, but people are using the terms somewhat interchangeably.
Basically, stay in your home as much as possible, and when you leave your home, stay a minimum of six feet away from people. At the grocery store. On a walk. Wherever you go, there should be a six foot radius around you.
Social distancing in practice is a set of individual behaviors. For some, it means not leaving their house at all. For others, it means only going to work.
But some seem to think it means to carry on like normal but use hand sanitizer.
Social distancing is how we buy time.
Time for our hospitals to treat those currently sick before more get sick. Time for the science to catch up. Time for better treatments to be found. Social distancing is the only thing that can buy us that time.
Social Distancing Makes a Difference
At CV-19’s minimum case fatality rate (CFR), 3.8% of cases will die.
Some people are on board with the idea that these people are going to die anyway, so why not just “save the economy” and stop social distancing?
Besides the obvious moral and ethical issues with sacrificing human lives for the good of the economy (I’m judging you), there are two scientific reasons.
1) Those people may not die if we can flatten the curve to allow time for more consistent treatments and preventive measures to be developed
2) The CFR can increase
Flatten the Curve
Every person has about 300 people in their network. At 3.8%, that’s about 11.4 people you know who will die if CV-19 continues to spread widely without any controlling measures.
Eleven people in your life that some would say are an acceptable cost for the sake of the economy.
As hospitals fill up and ventilators are in short supply for breathing complications, the best thing we can do is make sure the virus spreads as slowly as possible and keep our vulnerable populations as protected as possible.
We can limit how fast it spreads with social distancing measures to buy those people that time.
COVID-19 Fatalities By the Numbers
Number two tells us about maximum fatalities. Minimum case fatality rate has a maximum counterpart. Approximately 18-22% of confirmed cases have needed hospitalization. Globally, the rate is 20.2%, so that’s roughly the maximum CFR.
Ideally, we never determine the max CFR by experience, only by calculation.
CFR? Percentages? It’s all technical language and calculation driven math.
Remember those 11.4 people you know that some are okay with sacrificing to lift the economically impacting measures? If we lift the measures and overwhelm our hospital systems, that number jumps to 60.6 people you know that could die.
The minimum of 3.8% is IDEAL, meaning everyone has access to medical care. The maximum of 20.2% is what happens when our hospitals are overrun.
Right now, we’re trending up. 4.01% a few days ago, then 4.31%. 4.64%. 4.72% as of March 29.
That means among those you know, that 11.4 is already 12.6.
The Psychology of Capitalism
We have trouble staying home because we feel like “staying home” means being useless and not contributing. The political blustering about the economy’s trouble due to social distancing hits this home.
We’re taught from a young age that our value lies in how much value we add to society.
Productivity means we are valuable. We contribute. We have a real job.
Anyone who can’t participate at the average level of productivity is shamed and made to feel guilty and less-than. Disabled people. Underemployed people. People who work minimum wage jobs – which, I may point out, are now being highlighted as the essential roles that are keeping our society running at all.
In times of stress and crisis, we feel helpless we want to feel helpful. We want to do something so we’re not just sitting at home feeling useless.
Because productivity is intrinsically associated with our personal worth in a capitalist society. We can’t just sit at home when there are productive things to be done. Like grocery shopping, for example.
In times of stress and crisis (say, a global pandemic), once a few people start to panic and stock up a surplus of goods, it cascades and causes more and more people to hoard and compete for resources.
Those who can stock up are immensely privileged if they can afford to buy weeks’ worth of food at a time. Parents on WIC assistance can’t get the food they need when people have cleaned out the shelves in a blind panic. People who need to wait until their SNAP benefits renew so they can get their usual groceries may also face empty shelves due to the people with liquid cash coming through to fill their bunker with canned peaches.
It’s biological. The stress of an oncoming crisis, and the uncertainty that comes with it, increases cortisol production which causes an impulse to hoard resources. Prehistorically speaking, stress means you’re going to run out of food, so you have to go get the food before anyone else can.
But we’re in 2020, and despite the global pandemic going on, we need to remember that the stores are staying open and we will not run out of food.
We need less “every man for himself” and more community support and resource sharing. Even if that sharing just means leaving groceries for your neighbors.
Capitalism encourages competition over cooperation. We can consciously choose otherwise.
How to Social Distance Like a Pro
- Cancel gatherings, outings, and social situations
- Visit virtually, play games online, and meet your social needs as much as possible to reduce feeling isolated
- Restrict grocery shopping to one time per week or less.
- When shopping:
- Shop via pickup or delivery, if possible
- Take a list
- Be flexible and prepared to make substitutions – you don’t need a specific brand of toilet paper or to go to 5 stores looking for it
- Maintain 6 feet of distance from others
- Avoid touching your face (you can wear a cloth mask to help re-train yourself away from frequent face touching – be sure to wash it frequently)
- Be patient and give people space
- Avoid going to multiple stores (one store is enough exposure, get what you need and go home in one trip)
- Bring along disinfecting wipes for your cart
- Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home for 20 seconds with soap and water
- Disinfect your phone and phone case when you get home, because you probably touched it a lot without realizing
- When shopping:
- Only go into public for groceries, necessary medical care.
- Focus on mental health before productivity
- Use telehealth appointments with your therapist
- Free therapy is available at 7cups.com
- Practice basic self-care like making sure you drink water, shower/wash your hair regularly, try to get some fresh air outside or open the windows, and eat regularly
- Don’t freak out about stress/comfort eating or snacking
- Realize risk of infection increases exponentially each day, as cases increase, so if you’re going to need it, it’s better to get it today than tomorrow (prescriptions, food)
- Tip your delivery drivers like your life depends on them
Social distancing is hard because many of us are feeling isolated, helpless, and afraid right now. But it works, and it’s necessary.
Social distancing works, but only if you act based on the idea that YOU are infectious. Assume you are. Act accordingly. Keep those numbers down and help flatten the curve.
If you need to be productive, you can by helping others not feel isolated, not by running around. If you want to be productive right now, do something helpful from your home.
- Donate to charities helping support front-line healthcare workers
- Share news stories about worker strikes for hazard pay and benefits
- Create art and share it with others
- Lead an online class in something you’re an expert on (people are learning all kinds of things right now)
- Check in with friends to give them someone to talk to
- Add joy to the world however you can
Data for this article was provided by Ash Roulston.