Health Team

Social distancing: How close is too close?

Posted March 18, 2020 6:55 a.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2020 5:11 p.m. EDT

Preventing illness now includes a greater awareness of what you touch and who you are near -- but that doesn't mean you have to stay inside all the time.

After Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement about closing restaurant dining rooms and bars, avoiding a crowd is easier for Elsa Kane and Lord Hughes, who work in the hospitality industry.

"I work in the restaurant business, so we've gone from 'in house' to all takeout," Kane said.

"I work at a bar venue, and based on that announcement by Roy Cooper today. I'm going to have a lot of time for myself," Hughes added.

Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Matthew Faiman explains that keeping a safe distance between you and others is part of avoiding contagious illness. That means avoiding large groups in small spaces.

"When you have an illness that is borne by droplets, by coughing and sneezing, there's more of a chance to spread it among the community if you're in close quarters," Faiman said.

In a crowd, you may never know when you're next to someone who is either getting sick or recovering from an illness.

That's especially true in a doctor's waiting room, which is why telemedicine -- engaging with a doctor online or over the phone -- is one good option.

Stay 6 feet away

Experts recommend people try to stay at least 6 feet away from each other because, when an infected person speaks, exhales, coughs or sneezes, the droplets travel about 3 to 6 feet before gravity pulls them to the ground.

What about lines and grocery stores? Some errands -- like buying food, gas and medicine -- are necessary.

According to health experts, try to go to the supermarket at times when it's less crowded, stay 6 feet away from other shoppers as much as you can and and wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.

Faiman hopes that, next time, advances in medicine may provide earlier help when a new contagion threatens.

"We will be able to have a vaccine that will be, in the future, the best way to prevent illness," he said.

According to Faiman, family members or neighbors can help those at higher risk of illness to stay home by getting things they need from the store or pharmacy.

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