Social Distancing: What Is It and Why Is It So Important?

Carolina Gonzalez

With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 discussions of social distancing has been brought up countless times by the media, and even by celebrities who are using their platform to encourage fans to stay home amidst this outbreak. Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat have also joined in by creating features like the #StayHome story and Zenly, which spread awareness and encourage users to share their experiences while in quarantine. However, while it’s great to encourage people to stay home, it’s also important that people are made aware of why exactly social distancing is so important.


What is social distancing?

Many sports events, cruises, concerts, and gatherings have had to be canceled in an attempt to get people to practice social distancing – that is: staying home. Social distancing is a term used to describe the act of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Ways of practicing social distancing include:

  • working from home instead of in-person
  • closing schools and switching to online classes
  • canceling or postponing plans that involve going out in public
  • choosing to stay home to eat rather than eating in a public space

However, for situations where one is required to be in a public space, social distancing can still be practiced by remaining at least six feet away from other people. This lessens one’s chances of coming in contact with viruses like COVID-19.


Why is social distancing so important?

The main reason social distancing is so important is that it’s an incredibly effective way of preventing the spread of the virus. Oftentimes, people will continue to go in public because they feel healthy and don’t think it’s dangerous for them. However, since symptoms of the virus can take up to two weeks to appear, there is a possibility that they could be spreading the virus to others. While it may not seem dangerous for them, it’s incredibly dangerous for people who are at higher risk of contracting the virus, like the elderly and the immunocompromised.

If large portions of the population practice social distancing, it could greatly slow down the increase in COVID-19 cases and would reduce the intensity of the pandemic. Researchers at the University of Oxford have said that social distancing in Italy has shown a flattening of the curve of the epidemic. In other words, it’s shown that measures such as confinement and social distancing can delay and reduce the peak of an epidemic.


What could happen if I don’t practice social distancing?

By choosing to not practice social distancing, people may contribute to the rapid spread of the pandemic by putting themselves at risk of contracting and even unknowingly spreading the virus. A graphic published by the New York Times showed what new infections of COVID-19 could look like by June if Americans don’t begin taking isolation seriously. The director of the division of epidemiology and biostatics at UIC’s School of Public Health stated: “We have to observe and adhere to these recommendations to socially distance ourselves and to not do so would be at our great peril,”. Social distancing is crucial to slow the spread of COVID-19, and without people actively partaking in it, it will be far more difficult to lower the number of people affected by the virus.


How long will I have to practice social distancing?

As of now, experts don’t know exactly how long people will have to practice social distancing. It greatly depends on how well the restrictions put in place work, and how much they slow down the spread of the pandemic. In Seattle, health experts’ recommendations on social distancing have continued to rise along with the number of infections and deaths. This virus has caused a great strain on the health system, and because the virus is so new, very little is known about how long it will take to slow down. When asked this question, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, stated: “For now, it’s probably indefinite. We’re in uncharted territory.” However, Americans should, at the very least, be prepared to practice social distancing for up to a month.