Social Distancing is a key practice that can prevent the spread of the Novel Coronavirus in T&T. Since the pandemic of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) has stolen the international news headlines, the term social distancing has become the buzzword.
We have even been advised on some practices that are considered social distancing, like avoiding crowds and any gathering of people. The Prime Minister even announced at his press conference to limit gatherings to a maximum of ten people. Many may have been staying at home because of the closure of schools, universities and businesses. It may be obvious that the objective of these measures is to reduce the probability of contact between persons carrying an infection, and others who are not infected, in order to minimize disease transmission. However, what are other practices of social distancing we can practice to reduce the spread of infection?
Social distancing is a set of non pharmaceutical infection control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease, like Covid-19. It is most effective against infections that can be transmitted via droplet contact (coughing or sneezing); direct physical contact, including sexual contact; indirect physical contact (e.g. by touching a contaminated surface such as a fomite); or airborne transmission (if the microorganism can survive in the air for long periods). It may be less effective in cases where an infection is transmitted primarily via contaminated water or food or by vectors such as mosquitoes or other insects, and less frequently from person to person.
This public health measure to prevent the spread of disease has been practiced for ages. Historically, leper colonies and lazarettos were established as a means of preventing the spread of leprosy and other contagious diseases through social distancing, until transmission was understood and effective treatments were invented. This was also employed during major epidemics and pandemics in the past such as; the Spanish Flu of 1918, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, the Swine Flu in 2009 and now in 2020 with Covid-19. By practicing social distancing and reducing spread through person-person contact, we prevent a sharp peak of infection and reduce the incidence to a level that will not overwhelm the healthcare system capacity. This effect is what is called ‘flattening the curve’), a popular term that was used by the Public Relations Officer of the T&T Medical Association (T&TMA), Dr. M.I.O. Rahman and later by our Minister of Health.
Here are measures of social distancing we can employ to prevent the spread of Covid-19:
Avoid: Group gatherings, concerts, athletic events, malls, crowded retail stores , theater outings, work-out at the gym, sleep overs, play dates, visitors in your home , non-essential workers at your house
Use Caution when: Visiting grocery store, picking up medication, visiting local restaurants (get take out), going out for exercise, traveling
Safe to: Take a walk, go on a hike, play in your yard , read a good book, listen to music , have family game night, go for a drive, have video chats, stream your favourite movie.
It is true that the majority of cases of Covid-19 present with mild to moderate symptoms and recover fully. So why insist on social distancing? We must remember the vulnerable, those who succumb to the complications and have a high risk of dying from Covid-19 infection. These include the very old, the very young, those with comorbidities such as; Diabetes Mellitus, heart disease, lung diseases (Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease), liver disease, kidney disease, and pregnant women (see Fig3 for more). If someone contracts Covid-19, it is not likely they may die from it, but contracting the disease means you can spread it to these more vulnerable individuals, putting their lives at risk. Yes, you may survive, but you may become the cause of the death of another because you spread it to them.
Even though social distancing can be very effective in reducing the spread and not put a toll on our healthcare systems, it does have its drawbacks. We are a high-tech society, but also a high- ‘touch’ species. So, limiting our physical interaction can lead to feelings of loneliness, reduced productivity and loss of the benefits associated with human interaction. This is because social distancing measures can make people likely to isolate themselves and more prone to anxiety. It is important to note that, while working from home, physical activity will be reduced leading to added feelings of sadness, frustration or anger. The elderly may be hit the hardest by the negative impacts of social distancing. A situation such as the Covid-19 pandemic is one where many feel they may not be in control. Such a situation is a risk factor to develop anxiety, or aggravate symptoms if you already have a preexisting mood disorder like anxiety or depression. Although social distancing may be an opportunity to tune into your own well-being, it may be a good time to focus on a healthy diet, sleep/rest or taking walks more than you normally would.
Using technology, keep in touch via telephone or video conferencing with loved ones, family and friends. Whether or not you are practicing social distancing, make sure you are not ignoring your mental health. Let’s be each other’s keeper and stand united against Covid-19 by being apart. Practice social distancing.
Dr. Visham Bhimull
Primary Care Physician
Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)