What are the ‘rules’ for social distancing?

How close is too close? Health authories advise that you stay at least two metres away from others. Couples and immediate family are fine if not showing symptoms. The benches here are a little too close to the walkway for people to keep that distance, so some people walk on the bike path. (Richard McGuire Photo)

As the pandemic spreads, the rules for social distancing are changing.

Less than a week ago, public health authorities throughout North America were calling for cancellation of events with more than 250 people. Things change quickly and now even small gatherings are being called off.

The current advice is to stay at least two metres (just over six feet) away from others when you are out in public.  Obviously if you are showing symptoms or have been exposed to someone else with symptoms, you need to go further.

This chart from the Public Health Agency of Canada explains the differences between self-monitoring, self-isolation and isolation and when each is appropriate.

For those who can, it is recommended that you work at home.

Look for ways to stay in social contact by using technology instead of face-to-face meetings and gatherings. Skype (all computers) and FaceTime (Apple only) are a great solution.

This article, “Coronavirus, Social Distancing and Self Quarantine,” from Johns Hopkins Medicine was written by Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, an MD and senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins. It’s got some great tips on social distancing.

On a walk around Osoyoos yesterday, I noticed that most people are doing their best to social distance. As I walked along pathways at Pioneer Walkway and Haynes Point (swiws) Provincial Park, I noticed people swerving to keep their distance from others.

But our world wasn’t designed for social distancing. In many places people are seated on benches right next to the walkway, making it likely that passersby will pass much closer than the recommended two metres.

Businesses are having to adjust very rapidly. Some are closing down completely. Others are changing their service model to provide take-out or using telephone and online options instead of in-person shopping. Some are limiting numbers of people inside at the same time and they are busy disinfecting.

They are trying. When they fall short, it’s more effective to politely make them aware of these shortfalls rather than attacking and shaming them on social media.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of Osoyoos. Let’s support them.

It’s a huge social adjustment. That’s why some measures are being phased in. We can’t assume that the virus is not in our community and we must act as though it is. But our less dense population and our relative isolation has bought us a little time to make adjustments. The rules will get much stricter and we only need to look at Europe to see the types of measures that may be imposed as the virus spreads.

Writing from Italy for the Washington Post, Ida Garibaldi makes the point that people needed time to adjust to draconian measures. Her article, “Hello from Italy. Your future is grimmer than you think” provides a chilling view of what a society in lock-down faces. Here’s what Garibaldi said about social adjustment:

For some people, the gradual roll-out made these measures hard to accept: Skeptical observers questioned the seriousness of the disease, given that the restrictions were not draconian from the start. And yet without time to adjust to a progressive loss of freedom, we wouldn’t have accepted it. We might have rebelled. Instead, we rallied, coming together as one — protecting each other’s health, even as we could no longer socialize.

Osoyoos is a small community where we tend to be nicer and work things out. But the fear of social breakdown and rebellion is a real one in larger places where “assholes” can be anonymous. Governments need to strike the right balance between public health and maintaining social calm.

One has only to look at the U.S. where some leaders are handling this well, but others, including some governors and the president, have been pushing aggressive denialism. Far-right websites are still pushing the message that this is all a hoax and some are urging resistance to social distancing measures. Even Fox News, however, has been starting to change its tune.

Here at home, the best we can do is to stay informed, look out for others, and practice social distancing.

See also The dos and don’ts of social distancing – from Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This page from Public Health Agency of Canada provides lots of tips on being prepared more generally as well as social distancing.

The BC Centre for Disease Control is still the best place to find official BC information.

Be nice to each other and stay healthy!


Author: Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is an Osoyoos photographer who worked at the Osoyoos Times between 2012 and 2018, first as reporter and then as editor. He has a long career in journalism as well as research, communication and management at the House of Commons in Ottawa and in the federal government.

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