UCI Health will see you now: Welcome to our new co-workers and patients from Fountain Valley, Lakewood, Los Alamitos and Placentia Linda! 

What does social distancing mean?

The rules have been changing rapidly

March 24, 2020
friends not practicing social distancing
Scenes like this shouldn't happen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep at least six feet between yourself and others. Catch up with your friends using digital tools.

Some less-than-welcome words and phrases have been added recently to our vocabularies: COVID-19, N95 masks, index case and community spread. Now, of course, there is social distancing.

But with the rules changing rapidly on which behaviors will keep us safe from the novel coronavirus, many people are confused about exactly what social distancing is or what it entails.

At one point, the rule in California was that restaurants could stay open but had to seat fewer people and space them farther apart. That quickly changed to allow only takeout food.

Preventing exposure to coronavirus

The idea behind social distancing is to stay far enough away from others to prevent exposure to the contagious disease, and to use safe hygiene practices at all times, UCI Health infectious disease experts say.

Droplets from the sneezes and coughs of infected individuals can sicken us, as well as leave the virus on surfaces we touch then transmit to our eyes, nose or mouth when we touch our faces.

But what distance is far enough and how do we avoid contaminated surfaces?

Tips to keeping your distance

Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Avoid crowded places. According to the American Psychological Association, that includes crowded restaurants, concerts, parties and, when possible, public transit. Many gathering places already are closed, but not in all areas. The more people with whom you’re in close contact, the higher the chances of exposure. Cancel in-person meetings and social gatherings or hold them online.
  • Stay six feet from people who are not members of your household, the APA advises, so that you maintain a safe distance from droplets someone my spread by sneezing or coughing.
  • Change your greeting method. Remember the elbow bumps that became popular for a short while after the public was warned against shaking hands? That’s too close. Try a nod, a bow or wave from a distance.
  • Going outside for walks and fresh air is considered a healthy and safe activity, according to the California Department of Public Health – but only if you maintain that important six-foot separation between yourself and others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly – for at least 20 seconds. When that isn’t possible, use hand sanitizer, the World Health Organization says. Both practices dissolve the structure of the virus.
  • Use a tissue or your elbow to catch your own sneezes and coughs.

When six feet isn’t enough

The state of California is advising that people age 65 and older and those with a variety of health complications observe even greater social distancing, staying inside their homes to the extent possible except for outdoor exercise.

If possible, have friends or relatives do the shopping for you, or order groceries online.

Remember, stay-at-home orders now apply to everyone except those whose jobs are considered essential, such as doctors, nurses and first responders. Your help is needed to stem the spread of COVID-19.