Shelter in Place, Social Distancing and What It All Means

What to do — and what not to do — to protect against COVID-19

Healthy Living March 24, 2020
social distancing shelter

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., the federal government has advised Americans to begin practicing social distancing for the next few weeks. Recently, Gov. Pritzker ordered a statewide shelter in place to help combat the outbreak in Illinois.

The ideas of a shelter in place order and social distancing can seem overwhelming. Not only do they change our daily life, they aren’t very appealing either. But there are some things you still can do while social distancing yourself from others.

What is social distancing? Why is it important?

Social distancing is way to help stop the spread of a disease by limiting your contact with others. This can be done by avoiding going out to eat, hanging out in bars or being in groups of 10 people or more. Social distancing also includes avoiding handshakes, working from home and keeping kids out of school.

Mia Levy, MD, PhD, director of the Rush University Cancer Center stressed the importance of social distancing in a recent YouTube video for Rush University Medical Center.

“This should be our message of hope today: Social distancing actually works and is our best defense right now against this rising epidemic in our country,” Levy explained. “Many people feel like we’re overreacting by closing schools and restaurants and not going to the movies but actually it is our best hope in the acceleration of this illness in our country.”

What about a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is basically mandated social distancing. All businesses that are recognized as nonessential are ordered closed. Citizens are told they should stay in their homes as much as possible. People can leave their homes for essentials such as groceries or medicines, as well as get outside for walks and exercise.

Do’s and don’ts for social distancing during shelter in place

So, social distancing and shelter in place go hand in hand.  We know that social distancing is important, but it does come with a lot of restrictions. While some of these are already being enforced — eating out, hanging out in bars — others may not be as clear cut. We’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts to help you figure it out.

Going outside and exercising outside

DO. COVID-19  is not airborne, so it isn’t dangerous to go outside. You can continue to exercise outside or have your kids play in the backyard. That said, you should still be practicing social distancing while you are outside. This means you should try to stay at least 6 feet away from others. This may involve moving to the other side of the street when approaching others while taking your daily run outside.

Make sure you wash your hands, and wipe down your phone and door knobs you may have touched after reentering your home.

I’m healthy; I can hang out with friends and family.

DON’T. Just because you feel healthy, doesn’t mean you aren’t a COVID-19 carrier. While asymptomatic people are less likely to spread the disease, it doesn’t mean you can’t. As this turns into an outbreak caused by community spread, you can’t be sure that the family and friends you are seeing haven’t been exposed either. The only way social distancing during a shelter in place will work is if you stay home and your friends and family stay home.

You don’t have to completely isolate yourself, though. You can continue to stay connected with your loved ones virtually. Hold Facetime parties, talk on the phone as much as possible or hold a virtual Netflix movie night.

What about travel?

DON’T. The main purpose of a shelter in place is to properly perform social distancing. This means you need to stay at home as much as possible. You should cancel or reschedule all travel plans until further notice.

The only way social distancing during a shelter in place will work is if you stay home and your friends and family stay home.

Going to the grocery store.

DO. Things like grocery shopping and going to a pharmacy can still be done under a shelter in place. There is no need to panic shop. The supply chain of foods is not stopping, and stores will continue to stock their shelves.

However, it is recommended to try and limit your grocery shopping to once a week. The less time you spend in a grocery store surrounded by others, the better. Make sure to still practice social distancing while shopping — standing six feet away from other customers. You should also use hand sanitizer during and after shopping – especially before getting back into your car.

Cancel all playdates.

DO. While children are often asymptomatic if they have COVID-19, they can still be carriers of the disease. Children are also well-known for spreading germs. While it may be difficult to keep a little one cooped up in the house, the only way social distancing will work is if everyone — kids included — stay home.

But keeping your kids to connected to their friends, relatives and neighbors is still important. Have your kids call their grandparents or do virtual playdates with friends on video chat programs.

Order takeout and delivery?

DO. Yes, restaurants and bars are closed to the public but delivery and takeout is still allowed. Support your local businesses during this hard time and order a delivery for dinner. Many food delivery apps offer contactless delivery, meaning they will leave the order outside your door. This means you can continue practicing social distancing when the delivery carrier arrives.

As an added layer of precaution, you should wipe down all food containers delivered to you and re-plate your food on your own dishes. This is one more wall of defense against exposure from the outside.

The shelter in place and social distancing can be overwhelming, it doesn’t mean all of your freedoms are taken away. Continue to get outside and enjoy fresh air, order food from your favorite local restaurant and connect with your friends virtually. But most important, take social distancing seriously; don’t congregate with groups of people. Make sure to stay at home as much as possible to minimize your exposure and the exposure of others.

These lifestyle changes will go a long way minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and can have the impact of saving many lives. Social distancing is key to protecting our community. 

“I know that this is a very difficult time for everyone, but I’m here to give you a message of hope. Social distancing can work and it will work if we have each and every one of your support in participating in what is going to be some very hard decisions for each and every one of us,” says Levy. “But I encourage you to rise up and be part of that solution. Thank you for keeping us all safe.”

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