The term social distancing is now part of everyone’s vocabulary and it has become the cornerstone of the strategy we’re all using to flatten the curve and get back to normal as quickly as possible.
But social distancing isn’t always easy! I think the reason is because the practical application of the rules of social distancing are sometimes unclear and also it’s awkward to call someone else out on not doing it ‘properly’.
As a health care provider I’ve worked hard to educate myself and my staff on the dos and don’ts of social distancing and through that process there are three things I keep coming back to that I wanted to share today.
#1 – Improve your social distancing by avoiding ‘hot potato’ syndrome
For whatever reason, people think that when handing something to someone else it’s ok to ‘hand it over quickly’ and that doing so is somehow safe from a social distancing perspective. This is not true!
Treating something someone else touched as a ‘hot potato’ and only touching it for as short a time as possible is no protection at all against COVID-19.
COVID-19 can last on a surface anywhere form 4 hours to 4-5 days depending on the surface (shorter for surfaces like cardboard or plastic and longer on surfaces like glass). But either way if you’re picking up something that someone else just handed you then you are getting a dose whatever they put on it.
When you have to touch something someone else touched, don’t worry about how long you touch it for, just wash your hands!
This means that even if the surface was contaminated you’re getting the contamination off your own hands before it gets into your body.
This is a much better solution that just juggling it like a ‘hot potato’.
#2 – Improve your social distancing by stopping ‘bubble invasion’
People just can’t help it. When they’re talking to you they often can’t help but take a step or two closer.
It makes sense if you think about it. For their entire lives they’ve been used to talking to people from maybe 3 feet away and so now standing 6 or 8 feet away requires a conscious decision. That means if they’re not actively thinking about it their subconscious takes over and they take a step forward.
If someone is invading your bubble you have an obligation to both of you to stop them.
This is really hard to do because it is awkward!
My favourite way to do it is simply to hold a hand up in a ‘stop’ motion and to take a step back myself. That way you don’t have to interrupt what they’re saying or stop what you are saying.
But often when I take a step back they immediately take another step towards me!
Again, remember your obligation to keep both of you safe!
When this happens to me I interrupt the conversation and in my politest Canadian tone say, “Sorry! We’ve got to keep our six feet here!” and although it’s awkward it always works.
#3 – Improve your social distancing by being careful about adding ‘just one more person’ to your circle
This one is a bit trickier to understand but stick with me here.
A lot of people think that if they keep the groups of people they interact with small then it doesn’t matter how many different groups they see.
For instance they might walk the dog with one friend, then maybe they go for a run with another friend, then maybe they see a third friend for drinks on the porch. They keep groups small but they have lots of different groups.
The fact that they are staying in very small groups is great but by having so many different groups they’re expanding their ‘circle of risk’ exponentially.
You have to remember that when you interact with ‘just one more person’ you’re not adding one person to your circle, you’re adding that person’s whole social universe to your circle. Every person they have seen is now someone you ‘have seen’ indirectly.
Adding new people to our circles is a very important part of our society recovering from COVID-19 but as we’re doing it we need to remember that adding these completely new people to our circles can be high risk and so we should be doubly sure of all of our precautions in those situations.
Wash your hands, always wear a mask when social distancing is hard to do perfectly, and keep a detailed record of where you went and who you saw.
Social distancing has made a world of difference in helping us fight COVID-19 but like everything knowing more can make our efforts that much more effective. Remember these 3 rules and keep yourself and all those around you safe!