Opinion | Social Distancing May Be Our Best Weapon

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Opinion | Social Distancing May Be Our Best Weapon
In pandemics, as in war, we all need to do our part. By Mr. Brooks is the author of "World War Z." "Social distancing" might sound like an emotional phase in early adolescence (it certainly was for me) but in reality, it's a public health term describing our best defense against the coronavirus.


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Close contact

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the new virus can spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet).

We can protect ourselv...


Ineffective methods

Travel bans are proving to be too late. Since the virus can incubate for 14 days, carriers can spread it before they even know they have it.
Protective gear such as masks only works if they are ...


Preventing “community spread”

In 1918, health officials from Philadelphia ignored calls for social distancing and allowed a World War I victory parade to proceed. Within three days, people were sick. Within six weeks, 12,000 we...



Outbreak terms

  • Endemic is a disease that regularly infects humans, like the flu.
  • Pandemic is a worldwide spread of a new disease. 
  • Epidemic

Public health measures

  • Social distancing is a slew of tactics meant to keep people at a six feet distance from each other to keep droplets from an infected person's nose or mouth from landing on another person.
  • Quarantine is restricting the movement of, or isolating, people who might have been exposed to an infection but who aren't sick.
  • Isolation is separating people with confirmed or probable infections from other healthy people.
  • Lockdown is a term used by public health officials or lawyers to refer to anything from mandatory geographic quarantine to non-mandatory recommendations to shelter in place, to anything in between.
  • Cordon sanitaire is the restriction of movement in and out of a region or city.
  • Shelter in place is an order requesting people to stay at home, except for trips to the grocery store, pharmacies, and other essential errands.

Medical equipment

  • A ventilator is a machine that assists a patient in breathing when they have trouble breathing on their own.
  • PPE (Personal protective equipment), such as masks, gloves, face shields, and other gear that keeps health care workers from catching an infection.
  • A respirator is a face mask that seals around the mouth and filters out particles from the air before they are breathed in.
  • Surgical mask or face mask are loose-fitting masks that don't filter out all the particles but stop a wearer from spreading droplets of contagion when they sneeze or cough.

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A lesson from history

Near the end of World War One, the Spanish flu infected over a quarter of the world's population and claimed between 50 and 100 million lives.

During this pandemic, cities around the US ...

The spread of the new virus

  • If you are infected and continue to socialize as normal, you may pass the virus on to between two and three friends or family members, who could then infect a further 2 - 3 people. In one month, this can lead to 244 other cases, and in two months, it can rise to 59,604
  • A silent transmission - people who have been infected, but don't show any symptoms - can occur in up to 10% of cases. These people may not realize that they need to self-isolate.
  • There is evidence that staying at home and maintaining a safe distance from others can slow the spread.

The aim of social distancing

One of the goals of social distancing is to delay the spread of the virus, so it reaches people more slowly

The idea is to lengthen the time period over which the virus travels through a population and push the peak number of cases back so it appears later. With a lower rate of spreading, less infected people will need urgent care and resources at any given time.

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Wearing Masks

Wearing Masks

Due to the pandemic scare, many countries have enforced measures like social distancing, closure of transport options to decrease mobility and stay-at-home orders. These policies come in the shape ...

WHO Policy On Masks

The Official WHO policy until recently on masks was that they are to be worn by those who are sick and those who are taking care of the sick (doctors and nurses) or are at potential hazardous zones (like airports).

Experts suggest that a mask is not reliable protection while stressing on frequent hand washing.

Cultural Complexity

  • In Asian countries, we now see masks been worn by the general public and they are seen as safer and more considerate. These are the same countries where there have been serious outbreaks before and whose memories are still fresh and painful in the people.
  • The visibility of the mask acts as a visual reminder for everyone around, a sort of behavioral nudge. A mask makes us and others more aware of the situation. In crowded areas (like the Subway), if everyone is wearing a mask, the risk of transmission is lower.

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