Social distancing: The who, what, when, where and why


Social distancing is becoming a common topic in discussions about COVID-19. But what is social distancing, why is it so important, who should practice it, and how can we stay engaged as a community when we need to keep our distance?

What is it?

Social distancing is when individuals purposefully take steps that limit interaction with others in order to slow the spread of a contagious illness. The state Department of Health Disease Outbreak Control Division recommends that we keep a safe distance from others to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Staying 6 feet (or approximately two arms-lengths) from one another will reduce the potential for exposure and spread of the disease. This is especially important to safeguard friends and family who are more at-risk for developing complications, which include older adults and those with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems.

To learn more, visit DOH Disease Outbreak Control Division’s Facebook page, which includes several short video clips on the topic.

Why is it important?

An infected person can spread germs to others even if they are not experiencing symptoms. Let’s say a strong, healthy person doesn’t have symptoms but was unknowingly exposed to COVID-19. The person meets three friends for lunch. After lunch the four of them return to work and then go home for the evening.

• Friend No.1 returns to a meeting with the entire office.

• Friend No. 2 helps their cousin, who just finished chemotherapy and doesn’t have much energy.

• Friend No. 3 goes home where they live with tutu.

Now, not only have the three friends been exposed to COVID-19 but potentially also their coworkers and their family.

With up to 20 percent of infected individuals needing medical care, if the virus spreads too quickly the need will overwhelm the health care system.

Who should practice it?

When one segment of the population is at-risk for developing complications from an illness, such as COVID-19, it requires the entire community to take actions that slow the spread and protect the vulnerable. As such, everyone has the responsibility to practice social distancing to safeguard the health of everyone — health care workers, healthy residents and at-risk community members.

How can I stay engaged while I am practicing social distancing?

For those who live alone the impact of social distancing may be felt more acutely. Consider the following steps that you and others can take to stay engaged while practicing social distancing. Note that if county, state, or federal officials implement restrictions on movement that contradict any of the following ideas, always follow the restrictions.

• Write down family and friends who live alone or who are at-risk.

• Video chat and call those on your list regularly. Focus on topics that are positive and hopeful. Clear up any myths related to COVID-19 that may be causing stress. Find out if they have the basic necessities.

• Use technology to record oral histories of friends and family. Prepare specific questions that will elicit stories from childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. If possible, use a video chatting platform that offers video or audio recording features. This allows you to not only archive but to share it with others. If recording is not an option, write the stories as they are shared.

• Share a virtual meal. Prepare a favorite (or easy) meal, call at a specified time, and have a nice conversation by phone or video chat while both parties eat their separate meals.

• Read a book together by phone or video chat. Choose something that all will enjoy.

• Play interactive online games such as word puzzles or other similar games.

• Engage with friends and family via social media. Focus on posts and comments that promote accurate, realistic and positive information. Share stories that debunk myths related to the pandemic or that provide helpful reminders such as proper hand washing.

• Write a group story together through email. One person writes a few sentences, sends it to the other person who adds a few sentences and returns it. This cycle continues until the story comes to a conclusion.

• If you have a dog that needs a daily walk, plan a time to join another dog walker and maintain at least 6 feet distance from one another.

Protect our more vulnerable residents by practicing social distancing, staying safely engaged and learning all you can from accurate sources.

* Heather Greenwood is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters will cover topics of interest to the aging Maui community and will appear on the third Sunday of each month.


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