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Social Distancing (Physical Distancing) to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

Social distancing means keeping 6 feet of space between people to help prevent the spread of illness. This illustration shows two characters on a sidewalk with a dotted line indicating 6 feet of distance.

Keeping a physical distance of 6 feet can help stop the spread of coronavirus.

What Is Social Distancing?

Social distancing means keeping distance or space between people to help prevent the spread of illness. To help slow the spread and reduce your risk of COVID-19, stay at least 6 feet away from others. Keeping physical distance is important, even if you are not sick.

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Do not go to public places like stores, gyms, movie theatres, and restaurants.
  • Do not meet in groups at school, church, or work.
  • Limit public transportation. Keep a safe distance between yourself and fellow passengers.
  • Limit contact with anyone who does not live at your house, including friends and other family.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after being in public places. Germs could be on high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs or gas pump handles. Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Social distancing is especially important for cancer patients and others who have weak immune systems. Read more about COVID-19 in Children with Cancer.

Keep a Physical Distance but Stay Connected Socially

You may start to hear the term “physical distancing”. This helps stress the importance of keeping a physical distance. But during stressful times, it is even more important to stay connected socially and emotionally with friends and family. For now, we need to support one another but while keeping a physical distance as much as possible.

 

Why Is Social Distancing Important?

The coronavirus spreads easily through the spray of tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes. It can also spread through everyday contact, such as through shaking hands, sharing items, or touching common surfaces. Some people may not have symptoms but can still spread the virus to others. Even when people feel better, they may be able to spread the virus for a time.

How Do I Explain Social Distancing to Kids?

Explain that the best way to keep from getting sick, or from passing germs onto someone else, is to keep a safe distance away from other people. Germs are very tiny so we can’t see them. A cough or sneeze can spread germs through the air for up to 6 feet. They can also live on surfaces like a doorknob or phone. That is why we need to be extra safe: stay home and away from others, wash hands often, and cover our coughs and sneezes.

Although being safe is a good practice all the time, we hope that things will be more normal soon. Doctors and scientists are working to learn more about how this new virus spreads and to develop medicines that can help treat it.

If someone gets sick, it doesn’t mean that they did something wrong. Anyone can get COVID-19. We just want to be as safe as possible and do what we can to help stop the virus.

Get more tips on talking to your child about coronavirus and COVID-19.

Science for Kids: Ideas to Talk About Social Distancing

  • Use a fine mist spray bottle to talk about respiratory droplets and how germs spread through coughs or sneezes.
  • Estimate distance. Have a contest to see who can mark 6 feet the best. Talk about what that means in everyday life.
  • Discuss the importance of personal space. You might even identify potential “space invaders” and when it might be hard to stay away from others. Come up with ideas to help. Also, discuss what to say to friends who might not have the same “rules” for playdates.
 
  1. Physical Distancing at Home

    • Respect “personal space,” even among family members.
    • Do not share personal items.
    • Keep high-touch surfaces clean. Pay attention to items like phones, remotes, and doorknobs.
    • Limit guests inside your home. This includes family members who do not live with you.
    • Do not visit other people’s homes, especially if they are older.
    • Do not allow children to have playdates or sleepovers.
    • Exercise at home or outside.
    • Prepare a “sick room” to use in case a family member has symptoms of illness. 
    • Make it a practice for everyone to wash their hands as soon as they enter the house.

    Read more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on preparing your home.

  2. Physical Distancing at Work

    • Work from home if possible.
    • Meet remotely using video or phone conferencing.
    • Avoid high-traffic or shared areas like cafeterias or break rooms.
    • Make sure high-touch areas are kept clean. Pay attention to frequently used items like phones and keyboards.
    • Limit meetings to 10 people or fewer.
    • Allow no more than 3 people in elevators at a time.
    • Follow state and national guidelines for workplaces. 

    Read more from the CDC on how businesses and employers should prepare.

  3. Physical Distancing in Your Community

    • Stay home except for essential shopping or doctor’s visits. If you must get out, try to go when crowds are lowest.
    • Call ahead if you need to go to the doctor.
    • Get medicines using a drive-thru pharmacy or by mail.
    • Avoid public transportation.
    • Use drive-thru, pick-up, or delivery services from restaurants and other businesses.
    • Keep a safe distance away from other people at parks and on walking paths and trails.
    • Avoid shared playground or sports equipment.
    • Do not use public bathrooms or drinking fountains.

    Read more from the CDC on how communities should prepare.

When person who has the virus coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to 6 feet.

When person who has the virus coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to 6 feet.

How Does Coronavirus Spread?

COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) is an illness caused by a new type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The virus easily spreads from person to person. Based on what is currently known, there are several ways that the virus may spread:

  • When a person who has the virus coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.
  • Droplets in the air that contain the virus may be inhaled into the lungs.
  • The virus may be spread through direct contact with a person, like through a handshake.
  • The virus may spread when a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus may live on some surfaces for up to a few days.

What Does It Mean to “Flatten the Curve”?

The “curve” is used to show how many people get sick with COVID-19 at one time. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily through close contact with others. A lot of people are getting sick at the same time. This makes it hard for doctors and hospitals to treat everyone.

The goal of social distancing is to slow the spread of the virus or flatten the curve. If people stay home and avoid contact with one another, the virus won’t spread as fast. Fewer people will get sick at one time. People will still get sick, but it will happen at a slower rate — the curve will be flatter. This will help doctors and hospitals be able to take care of the people with COVID-19, especially those who are very sick.

The goal of social distancing is to slow the spread of the virus or flatten the curve. If people stay home and avoid contact with one another, the virus won’t spread as fast. Fewer people will get sick at one time. People will still get sick, but it will happen at a slower rate — the curve will be flatter.

The goal of social distancing is to slow the spread of the virus or flatten the curve. If people stay home and avoid contact with one another, the virus won’t spread as fast. Fewer people will get sick at one time. People will still get sick, but it will happen at a slower rate — the curve will be flatter.

Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation – What Is the Difference?

Social distancing means limiting close contact between yourself and others in your community, even if you are not sick or at risk. This is a voluntary practice to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine or self-quarantine means staying at home and avoiding contact with others because you are at risk for COVID-19 due to possible exposure. If you are in quarantine, you should take steps to keep from passing illness on to others in your home: wash hands regularly, do not share household items, sleep in a separate bedroom, and use a separate bathroom. Quarantine may also be ordered by health departments or federal or state officials.

Someone who has been exposed to the virus but does not have symptoms should self-quarantine for 14 days. After 14 days with no symptoms, you are no longer at risk for getting COVID-19.

Isolation means that you have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and need to be extra careful to avoid spreading the virus to others. Isolation may occur at home or in the hospital. Caregivers should wear protective gear to lower risk of becoming infected. Learn more about what to do if you have symptoms and how to care for someone who is sick.

Additional Resources on Social Distancing

Talking To Your Kids About Coronavirus and Social Distancing

Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe

15 Days To The Spread

To Beat COVID-19, Social Distancing is a Must

It's Time To Get Serious About Social Distancing. Here's How


Reviewed: March 2020