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Since President Duterte announced the enhanced community quarantine, the term “social distancing” has become part of Filipinos’ everyday vocabulary and practice. At home, it’s the subject of dinner conversations. In companies that have remained open, handshakes are discouraged. In churches, hugs and beso-beso would have to be put aside. The whole service might even be moved online, along with plenty of other businesses advised to work from home.
Social distancing is maintaining one meter of distance from other people, whether in trains, outside, or indoors. Ultimately, it’s avoiding crowds of people.
On the surface, we know that avoiding contact with others can curb the spread of the virus. But how is it really important? Is it effective as a precautionary measure? Here are the reasons social distancing is a crucial intervention:
To Reduce Exchange of Microbes
There’s always a probability of transmission when people gather together. You may not be aware of it, but you probably came into contact with an infected person, say, the gym instructor who used the treadmill before you or the security guard who checked your bag when you went inside the mall. A friendly tap on the shoulder or accidental brush of the hand can transmit droplets from coughs or sneezes.
This ease of transmission is what makes the spread of the novel coronavirus very fast. Moreover, the manner of transmission necessitates social distancing. With less contact, you lessen the probability of exchanging microbes. On the flip side, the more that you interact with people, the greater the probability of transmission events.
To Taper Off an Exponential Spread
Most people think that social distancing is only applicable to people who are sick. When one has coughing and sneezing fits, they have to keep themselves a good distance away from people — but the thing is, coronavirus infection doesn’t always have symptoms.
While it has resulted in thousands of deaths worldwide, most of the COVID-19 cases, believe it or not, are mild; sometimes, with no symptoms at all. This is both good and bad news. Good news, because people are able to recover. Bad news, because people who have it may brush it off only as the common flu or allergic reaction.
This downplaying of the infection can be a grave mistake, as it results in people not bothering to change their behaviors, still going to crowded places without masks on, not minding social distance from others. Experts believe that one infected person can spread the virus to two or three other people, which then translates to affecting more. Imagine the spread of the disease when you carelessly go to a bar or a market not knowing that you yourself are infected.
For this reason, asymptomatic or mild cases, experts believe, can make an outbreak far worse than it is, causing the number of cases and fatalities to balloon exponentially. You may not be sick, but you are causing others to fall ill when you choose to be irresponsible about social distancing. This results in the exponential spread of the infection. This leads us to the next point.
To Avoid an Overwhelmed Healthcare System
When the situation turns grim and a sudden spike in the number of patients requiring medical care happens, this would result in a healthcare crisis. With sick people outnumbering professionals attending to them, the likelihood of containing the outbreak becomes more difficult. Before that happens, medical experts work towards “flattening the curve” or slowing down the rate of infection — which can be achievable through observing proper hygiene and social distancing.
Currently, the Philippines is suffering from an overburdened healthcare system, as reported by CNN Philippines. Doctors and nurses are already getting sick themselves that they had to undergo self-quarantine. With patients pouring in, some healthcare workers been extending their shifts to longer hours, triggering extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
Nonetheless, these frontliners have been working harder than anyone else to save lives. If you want to help them and keep people from overcrowding hospitals, in your own little way, follow social distancing protocols. Avoid going to crowded places. Stay indoors as much as possible.
Social distancing has been in everybody’s lips and consciousness the past few days — and for a good reason. At its core, it can reduce transmission events, prevent the rapid progress of an outbreak, and provide relief for an already overburdened healthcare system. That said, don’t let the concept be just that, a concept. Practice it. Maybe, in this way, we can stop this pandemic and save lives.