In light of the World Health Organization (WHO) finally designating the Covid-19 outbreak seen in 113 countries and territories around the world as a pandemic, the debate this week of "social distancing" has erupted across social media and on Western mainstream media outlets..
The idea is that by canceling schools and large public gatherings, coupled with workers working online from home, there will be a reduction of coronavirus community spread, reducing the peak in the number of cases and put less stress on the limited resources of the medical community. This is illustrated by the figures below. You notice the number of cases doesn't change (the area under the curve).
But, it has another issue: it greatly extends the period in which society is affected by the disease.
However, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted Wednesday that "Social distancing is underrated," as it appears this life-saving measure could be implemented across the US as confirmed virus cases and deaths soar.
Social distancing is underrated.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 11, 2020
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have suggested social distancing could be a very effective way to limit exposure to the fast-spreading virus.
The CDC's recommendation for what social distancing involves is to avoid mass gatherings, stay out of heavily-trafficked areas, and maintain a safe distance from one another to limit transmission. This is different than quarantine or isolation that completely bans people from public places. Social distancing is more of a behavioral practice to limit transmission probabilities while out in public, rather than a location constraint seen under a quarantine.
"Social distancing is a very general term, so there are a bunch of different types of measures that can fall under it," Dr. Susy Hota, an Infectious Diseases Specialist and Hospital Epidemiologist at the University of Toronto's research hospital University Health Network told the Time.
Hota said people choosing to work at home instead of the office would be considered social distancing. "All of these measures are trying to achieve the same thing… but [with] slightly different tactics and slightly different nuances."
She said social distancing does have its problems, including when traveling on public transportation, accessing public services like post offices, going to the grocery store, and even attending worship service. Though even then, if social distancing and good hygiene practices are implemented, they can easily cut down their probabilities of contracting the airborne virus without too much disruption in life.
"Those are behaviors we all have to start practicing now in parts [of the world] where we don't have to enact additional measures," she said.
As government officials urge Americans this week to exercise social distancing measures to mitigate virus spread. The search interest on the internet for "social distancing" has erupted:
Max Brooks, the author of a zombie apocalypse book, argued in The New York Times that the "best way to prevent 'community spread' is to spread out the community. That means keeping people apart."
In Opinion— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 11, 2020
Max Brooks writes, “The best way to prevent ‘community spread’ is to spread out the community. That means keeping people apart.”https://t.co/wsOyrCLniC
KING 5 News Seattle's Michelle Li tweeted that the best way to avoid spreading is to keep the distance from everyone.
Introverts are finally getting their moment. It's called #socialdistancing ... and here's what it is in a nutshell.— Michelle Li (@MichelleLiTV) March 11, 2020
- Reduce face-to-face contact
- Wave instead of shake hands
- Give 6 feet of space from others
- Don't go out in public
- Avoid medical settings pic.twitter.com/GlwdiDy39s
Snowden's support for social distancing is strongly supported by evidence from the Spanish Flu Epidemic. A little over one hundred years ago, during the Spanish flu, Philadelphia held a massive parade across the city – ignoring warnings from health officials of a virus outbreak. Three days later, thousands were infected, and in a few short days, 4,500 were dead. It was a different story in St. Louis, just 900 miles away, where local officials listened to health experts and told people to keep their distance from one another and avoid public places.
Which looks eerily similar to the current virus spread with China limited (full social distancing) vs the Rest of the World (which has been slow to enact such authoritarian measures).
However, there's a problem developing with today's coronavirus outbreak in the US – as per Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, who warned on CNBC earlier this week, that the window of suppressing the virus in hardest-hit areas, such as King County, Washington; Santa Clara, California; Los Angeles; and the Tri-state area, has likely passed, suggesting that maybe social distancing isn't going to be enough – but rather lockdowns are imminent.