Social distancing is the primary strategy used to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. As the name suggests, it calls for people to increase the space between one another and to avoid gatherings and crowds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people should maintain a distance of six feet from others when possible.
But how does staying home and self-quarantining help reduce the spread of a virus like coronavirus?
The goal of social distancing is to reduce the basic reproduction number, known as the “R naught”. The R naught represents the average number of people who can be infected by one person, and it can increase and decrease depending on the rate of spread.
For instance, the R naught of the 2009 strain of influenza (H1N1) that killed more than 18,000 people was between 1.4 and 1.6—meaning for every one person infected with H1N1, at least 1.4 more people became infected.
The R naught of COVID-19 is between 1.5 and 3.5 according to the Imperial College of London. This means that for every one person infected with COVID-19, there will be as many as 3.5 more positive cases. An R naught of 3.5 can have a fatal impact on a population as large as the United States.
Slowing the rate of the coronavirus spread will reduce the burden on healthcare systems. This is called “flattening the curve.”
The number of confirmed cases in the United States is growing at a faster rate than our healthcare system can manage. By overburdening our hospitals and healthcare facilities, we could be faced with a grim picture.
But if social distancing is effective and we flatten the curve, we’ll give our healthcare system and healthcare workers the chance to do their jobs and keep up with the number of patients who need treatment or hospitalization.
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