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Social distancing gives healthcare systems time to prepare, save lives

social distancing

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Kingsbury and U.S. Army Spc. Stephane Yambaka demonstrate the recommended space for social distancing, six feet, at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston food court March 17, 2020.

Social distancing

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Alek Cervantes and Brenda Brown wait for service at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston food court March 17, 2020. Social distancing, maintaining a six-foot distance from everyone, can lessen chances of being exposed to COVID-19.

Social distancing

A military member and a contract employee wait for service at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston food court March 17, 2020. As COVID-19's reach rapidly expands, it is important for everyone to understand the importance of social distancing, which includes maintaining a six-foot distance from other people. Social distancing can slow the spread of an infectious disease, allowing health care systems to more readily care for patients.


Social media is flooded with stories from around the world about the lack of health care resources due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. One way to help alleviate the strain on healthcare facilities and professionals is to slow the spread of the disease, or flatten the curve.

Flattening the curve means using protective practices to slow the rate of COVID-19 infection so hospitals have room, supplies and doctors for all of the patients who need care.

“A large number of people becoming very sick over the course of a few days could overwhelm a hospital or care facility. Too many people becoming severely ill with COVID-19 at roughly the same time could result in a shortage of hospital beds, equipment or doctors,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

One way to flatten the curve, slow the number of patients seeking care, is to practice social distancing.

Social distancing is the deliberate increase in physical distance between people. This includes staying away from shopping centers, movie theaters, stadiums and other crowded events. It could also entail teleworking, staying home from school, canceling meetings, as well as visiting loved ones electronically instead of in person.

Social distancing also means maintaining a distance of approximately 6 feet, or 2 meters, from all others when possible to lessen your chances of catching COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Most respiratory viruses are transmitted by exhaled water droplets containing the virus after an infected individual coughs or sneezes,” said Col. Robert York, 59th Medical Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. “By increasing the distance between individuals, the probability of a heavy, virus-containing water droplet remaining suspended in the air and inhaled by a non-infected individual decreases, thereby reducing disease transmission.”

While some might feel social distancing is excessive, especially those at low risk for having serious issues from the disease, slowing the spread of COVID-19 can save the lives of older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease.

Debbie Aragon, a government civilian at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, said she visited her parents recently in their garage.

“We may not be in the high-risk COVID-19 group, but those we love may be,” she said. “I am now visiting my parents in their garage, sitting on a camper chair six feet away. It’s kind of a funny scenario for those walking by, but hey, I want my folks around for years to come!”

“Social distancing protects everyone. It keeps the well from getting sick and protects the sick from infecting others,” York said. “Additionally, social distancing protects our most vulnerable populations.  This means heeding the recent recommendation of limited visitation to long term care facilities – decreasing the probability of disease spread into this vulnerable population.”

In addition to staying an appropriate distance from others, good hygiene and other practices can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Social distancing, in combination with avoiding touching your eyes, mouth and nose with unwashed hands, as well as good hand washing and cough hygiene, will help break the chain of infection,” York said.

As the emergency situation continues regarding COVID-19, it is likely that social distancing recommendations will continue for some time, so it is important to remember to maintain mental wellbeing in addition to social distancing precautions.

For tips on maintaining good behavioral and mental health during social distancing, quarantine and isolation caused by an infectious disease outbreak, go to https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma14-4894.pdf.