Sticking Together Six Feet Apart: Testing the Effects of Social Distancing
Updated: Aug 6
Minoli Ediriweera, Sherwood High School, Olney, Maryland, USA
Social distancing - like many other precautions taken during a global pandemic, it is easier said than done. COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, para. 1). These droplets can land on someone nearby, so experts recommend practicing social distancing or self-isolation techniques to prevent contracting coronavirus. These methods include staying six feet apart from other individuals and staying home from work, school, and other large gatherings.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S., governors, health officials, and the media have been strongly urging if not begging Americans to practice social distancing. In just a few weeks, normal American life has turned upside down for all of us. At first, major sports leagues postponed their seasons. Soon, many restaurants and bars shut down, theaters and concert venues stopped holding shows, and department stores closed their doors. Now, public schools and universities have gone online, millions are left unemployed after states ask non-essential workers to stay home, and international travel is virtually non-existent after the Trump Administration’s travel bans. America, a bustling, vibrant, and booming empire is now practically a ghost town. 80% of Americans are under strict stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders by their states to strengthen the effects of social distancing (Mervosh et al., 2020, para. 26). Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order beginning March 30, threatening citizens who do not obey with heavy fines or misdemeanor charges (Mervosh et al., 2020, para. 26). Under these orders, citizens of Maryland may only leave their homes for essential reasons, such as pharmacy or grocery store trips, medical emergencies, and safe outdoor exercise.
So, with both cases and deaths rising and a lack of available testing, how can we get accurate data? The truth is, we can’t. The fact that coronavirus has a two-week long incubation period combined with the thousands of mild cases that are never even tested make it near impossible for medical researchers to report the numbers correctly (World Health Organization, 2020, para. 15). However, we can learn more about prevention by monitoring the effects of social distancing and self-isolation. States that took a faster response and enforced social distancing measures sooner than others seem to be slowing down the spread of the virus better. A CNN analysis reports that in New York, which has 75,000+ cases as of March 31 (more cases than any other U.S. state), “the state's average of day-over-day case increases for the past seven days was 17%, compared to 58% for the previous seven-day period” after governor Andrew Cuomo issued a strict stay-at-home order with legal consequences (Almasy et al., 2020, para. 12-13). In the same report, CNN explains that Northern California has also seen indicators about the benefits of social distancing, saying that the expected surge has still not arrived after Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order. It is abundantly clear that social distancing is absolutely necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. With top doctors predicting anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths, it is terrifying to imagine the millions of lives that could have been lost without the precautions already in place (New York Times, 2020, para. 1). Still, some Americans refuse to take social distancing measures seriously. Spring breakers were seen partying in crowds on the coast of Florida, and many young people continue to gather because they believe the virus only affects the elderly (Fieldstadt, 2020). However, some young people are contracting very serious cases, and can still spread it to vulnerable populations. While the practice has caused economic downturn due to unemployment and closed businesses, it has ensured the safety of millions. As the most brilliant scientific minds are hard at work on drug therapies or potential vaccinations, social distancing is the best shot we have at protecting the people of this strong country. All governors should enforce restrictions, like those of Hogan and Cuomo, to encourage the continued practice of social distancing. During times like these, we may not be able to stay together, but we can all stand together by taking responsibility for ourselves to protect our community.
Almasy, S., Hanna J., & Maxouris C. (2020). Social distancing appears to be slowing the spread of coronavirus in some areas but crisis won't end soon, officials say. CNN, 12-13.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). How Coronavirus Spreads. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.
Fieldstadt, E. (2020). Coronavirus comes for spring break: Local officials close Florida beaches after governor refuses to. NBC News.
Mervosh, S., Lu D., & Swales V. (2020). See Which States and Cities Have told Residents to Stay at Home. The New York Times, 26.
The New York Times (2020). White House Projects Grim Toll From Coronavirus. The New York Times, 1.
World Health Organization (2020). Q&A on coronavirus. World Health Organization, 15.