10 Ways to Safely Practice Social Distancing

woman lounging on the couch on the phone

Adobe Stock / master1305

Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin1.84k
  • Social distancing is a series of guidelines intended to help quell the spread of COVID-19 by preventing potentially-contagious people from gathering.
  • To keep yourself safe, maintain at least a six-foot distance away from others, limit essential errands as much as possible and keep hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes handy.
  • To keep yourself social, acquaint yourself with video conferencing software, take a stroll around your neighborhood and host virtual happy hours or trivia nights.

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic truly gained momentum in the United States several weeks ago, we as a society have found ourselves needing to acclimate to completely-different norms and expectations. One of the most notable examples of these drastic adjustments came in the form of social distancing, a series of rules and guidelines intended to help quell the spread of the virus by preventing potentially-contagious people from gathering. 

The value of social distancing grows ever more immediate and relevant on a daily basis, but it can be tricky to determine exactly what qualifies as a social distancing practice. Are we taking things far enough? How much separation is enough separation? Can we still maintain connections with friends and family when it’s not possible to travel or to hang out in close quarters (or in any public venues)? Read on for 10 actionable suggestions to keep your social distancing practices as effective as possible.

What is social distancing?

The CDC defines social distancing as “maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others and staying out of crowded spaces.” However, as the coronavirus becomes an increasingly prevalent problem, many experts advise expanding that definition to include the avoidance of all nonessential public outings.

What are the downsides to social distancing?

The need to socially distance resulted in the closure of many places of business and the loss of plenty of jobs, which stands among the most negative outcomes of the virus thus far. From a less financially-based perspective, the feeling of isolation prompted by “cabin fever” and an inability to physically socialize with loved ones poses emotional challenges for many living through this difficult and unprecedented time. 

How can I practice social distancing in an effective manner?

1. Acquaint yourself with video chat/video conference software.

If you’re among the professional population fortunate enough to still be employed, then you’re likely working from home. And, in that case, you may find yourself participating in video calls and Zoom conferences with your colleagues. These virtual meetings prove highly effective (many companies with multiple locations host meetings this way even under normal circumstances), so as long as you take the time to familiarize yourself with the technology, you’ll likely find that these meetings can proceed as seamlessly as they would in-person. 

2. Try to limit essential errands as much as possible.

Even in major cities like New York City and San Francisco, where leaving the house is currently discouraged, residents have the ability to visit “essential” businesses and establishments like supermarkets, doctor’s offices, liquor stores, gas stations and so forth. In the spirit of social distancing, however, it’s prudent to schedule your essential errands as deliberately as you can. When you visit the grocery store, for example, try to pick up at least a week’s worth of supplies at a time, thus eliminating the need to run back and forth several times over the course of a few days.

3. If you have to venture outside the house, observe the six-foot distance guidelines.

The 6-foot rule stated by the CDC applies to all encounters with other people outside of your own household, and that includes other shoppers in the supermarket, cashiers, station attendants, delivery people, receptionists — literally everyone. 

4. Patronize local businesses by ordering delivery, takeout and gift certificates.

Restaurants and retail businesses — especially those independently-owned — are taking a massive financial hit from this crisis, leading many to shut down indefinitely, while others transitioned to delivery-and-takeout-only models. If businesses in your area offer takeout and delivery, consider placing an order or two (while tipping generously and maintaining the six-foot distance rule, of course!).

5. Resist the urge to host at-home gatherings with friends.

It’s an understandable impulse: you feel healthy, your friends feel healthy, none of you fall into a “high-risk” category for the coronavirus, so why not get together at someone’s house for a few drinks and a round of Cards Against Humanity? The simple answer involves the fact that plenty of asymptomatic people still carry the virus, so even if you’re not feeling sick and your friends seem generally well, someone present at your impromptu house party could carry the virus home and infect a spouse or relative. It’s just not a risk worth taking.

6. If you need to see a doctor to renew a prescription, consider making a tele-appointment.

Medical appointments obviously qualify as essential services, but if you need to see a doctor just to get a prescription renewed or written, then it’s worth finding out whether you can accomplish that task via a tele-appointment with your own doctor or a teleclinic, which have become widely available since the escalation of the pandemic.

7. Take a solo walk (or a walk with your dog) if you need fresh air.

Just because you shouldn’t physically socialize with other humans right now doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the outdoors with your four-legged friend. The CDC claims that dogs cannot contract or spread COVID-19, so as long as you maintain that all-important six-foot threshold where other walkers are concerned, it’s perfectly fine to get some fresh air by taking your pup for a stroll.

8. Keep hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes handy.

Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes seem like very hot commodities these days, but if you can locate and purchase a supply, make sure to keep these crucial tools on your person whenever you go to the store or the doctor’s office and use them liberally on both yourself and on any surfaces you touch.

9. Start new traditions with your friends, like Netflix group watches or virtual happy hours.

Just as video chats can keep business meetings running more-or-less like usual, FaceTime catch-ups, Google Chat group hangs and Netflix Party communal streaming allow you to establish new ways of connecting with your friends and staying in touch even if you can’t meet up for a “real” happy hour. A homemade gin & tonic and a Skype session with your bestie won’t totally replace an in-person get-together, but it’s a solid compromise!

10. Do not decide to stop social distancing until expert sources give us the OK.

Maybe you’re located in a part of the country that hasn’t experienced a very high volume of coronavirus outbreaks, and you therefore assume that you’ll be able to return to business-as-usual more quickly than doctors and scientists recommend. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know better than the experts. Wait for the CDC, your state’s governor and the federal government all (collectively) determine that it’s safe to drop the social distancing precautions.