‘Social Distancing Actually Works’

By Mia Levy, MD, PhD

I know there’s a lot of fear right now with the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and there’s even more fear when we start talking about shutting down schools and closing restaurants and taking a lot of measures to do social distancing.

But I think that should be our message of hope today. Social distancing actually works, and it is our best defense right now against this rising epidemic in our country.

Many people feel like we’re overreacting by closing schools and restaurants and not going to the movies, but actually it is our best hope for really making a change in the curve of acceleration of this illness in our country.

‘Help us be St. Louis’

In the 1918 Spanish influenza, for instance, the city of Philadelphia and the city of St. Louis had two very different approaches to social distancing in their communities.

St. Louis implemented social distancing by closing schools and restaurants, movie houses, churches and synagogues much earlier than Philadelphia. Philadelphia waited 14 days to do so, and the rate of infection in Philadelphia really spiked during that time, whereas the wave, the rate of infection in St. Louis, was much lower.

And when you get these big spikes in cases, that’s when your health care system gets completely overwhelmed. So we want to be St. Louis. You want to help us be St. Louis. You want to help us get to that point where you are starting to do social distancing measures yourself as soon as possible in order to help our communities stop the spread of coronavirus.

Avoid playdates

For those places that have closed your schools and now your kids are at home with you, avoid playdates. Avoid the playground. It’s OK to go for a walk right now until they implement curfews and stricter policies.

I have two small children myself, in first grade and seventh grade. I know how hard it is to imagine having your children home for several week.

I believe that we can all get through this. Our school systems are reaching out to try to get internet access at home for families who don’t have it. They are working on curriculums that can be done online. Enable your children to be able to reach out to one another. But please refrain from the playdates.

Start to think about the fact that you really aren’t going to be going out at this point except to go to the grocery store and a medical facility if you need to. And if you do need to seek medical attention, call first before you do — it’s possible that you could get an appointment that is over the telephone or virtual and also can based on whatever your symptoms may be. They can help you find the right, appropriate location to get your care.

Support your community

I want to encourage you in particular to look out for those who are older, over the age of 60, those who have other medical problems, who may need assistance. This is going to be a very difficult time for them. And we want to make sure that they have the social support they need so that they don’t need to go out of the home.  Reach out to your communities and find out how you can help our older Americans and their families.

I also ask you to help support those members of our community who provide essential services during this period of time, who still must work. This includes our health care workforce, police, fire departments, and many, many others.

Reach out to those members of your community who may need assistance with their child care and other services for their families while they must be working during this hazardous time.

I know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but I’m here to give you a message of hope. Social distancing can work and it will work if we have each and every one of your support in participating in what is going to be some very hard decisions for each and every one of us. But I encourage you to rise up and be part of that solution.

Thank you for keeping us all safe.

Mia Levy, MD, PhD, is director of the Rush University Cancer Center.

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