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"Can I still have a friend over?" All your social distancing questions, answered
Social distancing, equal parts terrifying and necessary: If you’re out of the loop somehow, social distancing is defined by the CDC as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” It’s important because it helps slow the spread of coronavirus, and it’s the reason so many schools/restaurants/arenas are closed right now. If you social distance, you’ll protect yourself and others. But even more important, if we *all* social distance as a community, we can halt the virus’s progress.
But does that really mean you can't have your friends over? Or go to yoga (if your class is somehow still happening)? Or even see your grandma? The Atlantic's Kaitlyn Tiffany spoke to leading experts to get you the real deal (note: this advice is for healthy people under the age of 60).
CAN I HAVE A SMALL GROUP OF FRIENDS OVER TO MY HOUSE?
Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security: With few exceptions, now is the time to cancel get-togethers. Dating, family visits, house parties, should all be postponed or held virtually if possible. There are personal situations where people must go out for work, for supplies, or to help someone else in need. In those cases, everyone needs to tak precautions to keep distance from others, and wash hands frequently. If you develop a fever or cough, don’t go out unless it is absolutely necessary or to seek medical care.
Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania: I would recommend that people minimize social contact, and that means limiting all social engagements. That includes intimate gatherings among friends. I think the exception is if two households are in strict agreement that they are also going to reduce all outside contact and then those two households socialize together, to support one another. I can see social and mental-health advantages to that kind of approach.
CAN I GO TO THE GYM?
Watson: I would not advise people to go to the gym to work out now. I am trending more toward being conservative with social-distancing measures the more we see from Italy and with the changes in guidance from CDC and state and local health authorities. So, I would not advise people to go to the gym to work out now.
Cannuscio: No. In the coming days, as the crisis escalates, our freedom of movement may be restricted, so people will have to get creative about exercising at home. Can someone please host virtual dance parties? Create a playlist to get us through the pandemic? Our family has felt some relief after blasting music and dancing around the kitchen—not to deny the horror of what is happening now, but to deal with it. Highly recommend.
CAN I GO FOR A WALK OUTSIDE WITH A FRIEND, AS LONG AS WE STAY SIX FEET APART AND NEITHER OF US FEELS SICK?
Cannuscio: For now, walking, running, [and] biking outside, in uncrowded locations, seems like a healthy thing to do. Our family has driven to the woods in the past few days, in search of green and open space. For urban dwellers, finding an empty path is challenging. For people in more remote areas, being outside is a great way to cope. Walking outside with a friend, while keeping distance, is likely to be a relatively low-risk activity. With every additional social contact, the risk of encountering an infected person goes up, so strictly minimize the number of people you interact with. I wouldn’t pick a new friend every day! Stick with one friend, and preferably one who limits their other social contacts, too.
Watson: If you don’t have symptoms, going out in nature where you are not within six feet of other people is okay. We need to look after our mental and physical health, and fresh air, nature, and exercise are really important for that. However, meeting people is risky and could undermine our collective sacrifice to reduce viral transmission, especially if you don’t keep your distance. If you do go out with a friend, stay at least six feet away and avoid physical contact.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT GOING TO THE STORE?
Cannuscio: I would say try to shop at times when there are very few other shoppers there. That [could mean] going first thing in the morning when the store opens, or late at night.
SHOULD I CANCEL MY BIRTHDAY PARTY?
Cannuscio: One of the best ways we can show love to the people we care about is to step back and to stay away. In many cases that takes courage, and it takes speaking out over these social norms that dictate that we should be polite and we should be together and we should celebrate and gather.
SHOULD I STOP VISITING MY GRANDMA?
Watson: I think we should start limiting visitation to people who are in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. I know that’s really tough, and maybe setting things up so you can visit them virtually is a good idea. [That way], they can see you and say hello, [without putting] them at extra risk.
How are you handling social distancing? Comment below!