In prosperous northern Italy, the number of people who have become ill with the COVID-19 coronavirus has overwhelmed the ability of hospitals to provide care. In one hospital, an unused ward has been converted into an intensive care unit, and a laundry room is now a waiting room, the Associated Press reported. Some hospitals are unable to accept new patients, and plans are underway to build a 400-bed field hospital on the Milan fairgrounds. Although the situation unfolding overseas may seem distant in the U.S., public health experts warn it could repeat itself here if the virus isn’t contained.
Social distancing is key
That’s why as one of the many efforts underway at Tidelands Health to respond to the coronavirus, the health system is imploring community members to practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others, limiting travel, avoiding gatherings of people and taking other steps. “By slowing the spread of the virus, we can avoid a repeat of what’s occurred in Italy,” says Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “We understand how difficult it is to cancel that family reunion or long-awaited vacation, but we need the community to partner with us to help beat this illness and give the medical community the time and resources to treat everyone who seeks care. “Our message is simple: Help us help you.”
Already, schools, public libraries, sporting facilities, places of worship and, in some areas of the country, bars and restaurants, have shuttered as part of the efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic through social distancing. Putting distance between yourself and others isn’t reserved just for those at high risk of complications from the illness, Dr. Harmon says. It applies to everyone. “We all need to practice social distancing, even people who aren’t ill or at high risk for complications from coronavirus, because anyone can spread the illness — even people with mild or no symptoms,” he says. “By each doing our part, we can play a significant role in helping to stop the spread of the disease.”
How to practice social distancing:
Avoid gathering of 10 or more people.
Avoid public transportation whenever possible.
Limit nonessential travel.
Work from home if possible.
Postpone social engagements.
Staying away from each other isn’t easy because people are wired to be social beings, Dr. Harmon says. Friends and families enjoy coming together in groups, and many couples plan regular date nights with others out in the community.
Make it easier
Dr. Harmon says suspending those activities is difficult but necessary. Fortunately, there are steps people can take to make the process easier.
Use social media to stay in touch with friends.
Make use of video chat apps so you can safely connect with loved ones.
Play online video games with friends.
Participate in online courses.
Go for a walk in your neighborhood, keeping a safe distance from others.
Take a hike or go for a bike ride, continuing to observe social distancing guidelines.
“We know how difficult social distancing can be, but it’s essential to reducing the spread of coronavirus,” Dr. Harmon says. “The short-term pain can make a big difference in the long haul.”