Social distancing: why it’s critical
The COVID-19 crisis has ramped up in the last few days, with the number of global infections today, 19 March, standing at 220,230, with 8,981 people having succumbed to the disease (worldometers.info). In South Africa, there are 116 individuals being treated, with this number likely to increase in a matter of hours rather than days. In light of the current situation, we take a look at ‘social distancing’ and why it’s critical that every one of us, regardless of whether we fall into a high-risk category or not, puts it into practice.
What is social distancing?
Essentially, it’s about putting enough distance between yourself and others (who may be infected or have been exposed to the virus) in order to a) curb the speed at which the disease spreads and b) help ‘flatten the curve’.
The ‘curve’ here refers to the number of people estimated to become infected with COVID-19 over a set time period and its shape is determined by the rate of infection. For example, if the virus spreads quickly and exponentially, the curve will be steep, whereas if we follow social distancing protocols and it spreads slowly, the curve will be flatter.
So why does it matter how quickly the infection spreads if the same number of people are ultimately infected? Because the faster the infection spreads, the greater the burden on hospitals to provide adequate care for those affected.
Why should you take social distancing seriously?
- Because since the disease was first identified on 29 December 2019 (less than three months ago) over 200 000 cases and over 8 000 deaths have been recorded.
- Because Italy, which is several days ahead of us in terms of the development of COVID-19, is calling for global citizens to take the disease seriously and not to underestimate it – take a look at this video created by The Atlantic to see what Italians have to say on the subject (Warning: video contains some strong language).
- Because the virus that causes COVID-19 can last up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.
Do you need to practice social distancing if you’re young and healthy?
Social distancing has more to do with being a responsible citizen than with self-preservation. Roughly 80% of all cases will be mild and those affected will recover at home – but the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at risk and it’s our duty to help curb the spread of the disease so that our hospitals don’t become overwhelmed.
What does social distancing look like?
How you implement this measure will very much depend on your age, phase of life and whether you work for yourself or for an employer. Here are some of the ways you can get started (if you haven’t already):
- Cancel all dinner plans, coffee dates, family get-togethers, braais etc. and stay at home as much as possible.
- If you’re in a position to work from home, do so.
- Use apps like Zoom to keep in touch with your friends and family – this is important from a social point of view and to guard against loneliness and feelings of depression.
- Stay away from public places wherever possible. If you do need to go out, maintain a safe distance from others – at least 2 metres.
- Exercise in large outdoor spaces like beaches and parks or follow online workouts in your own home – it’s a good idea to stay active as exercise is key to mental wellbeing during stressful times.
- Avoid public transport.
How else can you protect yourself?
The Department of Health advises the following strategies to keep yourself and those around you in good health:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
What should you do if you think you’ve been infected?
If you have a fever, cough, sore throat and/or shortness of breath and think you may have been infected with the virus, call the emergency hotline on 0800 029 999 or your GP for advice.
The Department of Health has launched a WhatsApp service to keep the country educated and updated. To join the group, simply add the number – 060 012 3456 – as a contact on your phone, then type Hi in the message block. Once you’ve done that, you’ll start receiving instructions on how to sign up for specific news and information. For more information about COVID-19 and updates on the situation in South Africa, visit sacoronavirus.co.za.