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Why Social Distance?

Virus spread and community role

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  • Social distancing is the process of intentionally requiring people to physically separate themselves from others to prevent the spread of pathogens. [Johns Hopkins Medicine]

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this practice "physical distancing." [Aljazeera]

  • Social distancing provides some protection against illness but does not ensure protection nor immunity. [Johns Hopkins Medicine]

  • Historically, social distancing practices lead to lower death rates. [Johns Hopkins University]

To battle COVID-19, experts have illustrated the social or physical distancing practice to be:

  • Remaining at home,
  • Working and learning from home,
  • Self-quarantining, 
  • Leaving home only for essentials or energies,
  • Staying 6 feet+ away from others,
  • Canceling large meetings or events with big crowds.

[The Washington Post]

Social distancing was used to combat the 1918 H1N1 pandemic, known as the "Spanish Flu."

Learning from 1918 social distancing history, we can assume:

  • Don't wait to distance, you'll cause more deaths. [Philadelphia]
  • Don't relax early, you'll relapse and be hit by another deadly wave. [San Francisco, St. Louis]
  • Implement early and go longer than assumed. You'll save lives and avoid relapse. [New York City]

[National Geographic]



CIVICS: In times of crisis, should the federal government step in as the dominant power and authority or should all the power be in the hands of governors and mayors? 

  • 1918: Woodrow Wilson's administration (in the midst of WWI) gave social distancing powers to governors and local authorities.
  • 2020: Donald Trump's administration has (thus far) echoed a near duplicate response, with governors and mayors deciding when, where, and how to intact social distancing orders.

HEALTH: Learn more on how social distancing "flattens the curve".


SOCIAL: While experts say social distancing could prove valuable in ensuring viruses don’t spread, it does come with consequences. Some suggest it could increase personal risk to physical and emotional harm. [The New York Times]


ECONOMIC: Social distancing also has an economic effect, because fewer people are willing to leave their homes to make purchases. [Vox]


The CDC describes the practice of social distancing as

  • "remaining out of congregate settings,
  • avoiding mass gatherings, and
  • maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible."

[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


State by state, even city by city, may include additional recommendations or mandates in addition to the CDC's social distancing guidelines. 


The U.S. federal government has not mandated by law these practices nationwide (327.2 million people). 


Some countries abroad have mandated social distancing, like:

  • Italy (60.4 million people) [Reuters]
  • India (1.3 billion people) [TIME]
  • South Africa (56.2 million people) [Aljazeera]
  • The U.K. (66.4 million people) [Bloomberg]
  • New Zealand (4.7 million people) [The Guardian]


It works

Experts agree that the practice helps to slow the spread of any virus. This is known as "flattening the curve." [Johns Hopkins University]


Health officials suggest social distancing has been effective in slowing pandemics since the early 1900s. [Johns Hopkins University]


Many curves suggest the longer social distancing is practiced, the fewer new cases arise, the less death occurs, and the less the health care system is strained. [NPR]



Hard to measure

Immediate effects of social distancing can be hard to feel. Some scientists believe at a nationwide level we will start to see the effects in a year. [Vox]



Common sense and community rally

In order to be effective, those who practice social distancing must remain within the guidelines, wash their hands, and not expose themselves to vulnerable people with underlying medical conditions. [Johns Hopkins University]


Some communities are using this as a rallying call for members to support one another. [The Washington Post]

Who is reopening?

As of May 9, 2020


  • Mar. 2020: The Trump administration extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April. [The New York Times]

  • The majority of Americans (316 million people) were under a "stay at home" order from 42 states. [The New York Times]
  • Only “essential workers,” such as first responders and hospital employees, were asked to go to work. [NPR]
  • California was the first state to order citizens to stay at home or "shelter in place." [The Wall Street Journal]
  • May 1, 2020: Several states have begun to reopen their economy and ease shelter-in-place orders. [The New York Times]


  • What are the alternatives to social distancing? Learn more from Johns Hopkins University.

  • Here is a roundup of things to know about social distancing from NPR.

  • Misinformation during a time of crisis can be deadly. Be sure you know Fact vs. Fiction.

  • Some blame a Utah Jazz player for spreading COVID-19 among the NBA, resulting in wide-spread sports cancellations. But was it beneficial in suspending the season earlier than it would have been? [USA Today

Key Vocabulary