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How social distancing works and what it means for you

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Can my kids go on a play date? Is it OK if I visit the gym? In this time of coronavirus, once-easy questions have suddenly become complex.

Here are some questions and answers about the "social distancing" efforts to slow the epidemic.

WHAT IS SOCIAL DISTANCING?

Social distancing are practices implemented by public health officials to keep contagious diseases from spreading.

The measures are aimed at trying to cut down the amount of virus spreading around, and ultimately protect those most vulnerable, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Canadians should not gather in groups with more than 50 people and should stay home entirely as much as possible.

Experts also recommend people try to stay at least 6 feet (about 2 metres) away from each other.

WHY 6 FEET?

Experts believe the virus is mainly spread through droplets that come out of your mouth and nose. When an infected person speaks or exhales or coughs or sneezes, the droplets travel about 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 metres) before gravity pulls them to the ground.

"They fall pretty quickly," said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an infectious disease expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

It's important to try to block coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve, so as to not send those droplet flying directly toward someone nearby.

A sign near the Breckenridge Ski Resort gondola in Breckenridge, Colo., Saturday, March 14, 2020, outlines public health guidelines about social distancing to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. Signs with public health guidelines about social distancing to limit the spread of the new coronavirus were posted around the resort, and later in the day, Vail Resorts announced it would close all of its ski areas in North America through March 22, including Breckenridge and Keystone Resort in Summit County. (Liz Copan/Summit Daily News via AP)

A sign near the Breckenridge Ski Resort gondola in Breckenridge, Colo., Saturday, March 14, 2020, outlines public health guidelines about social distancing to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. Signs with public health guidelines about social distancing to limit the spread of the new coronavirus were posted around the resort, and later in the day, Vail Resorts announced it would close all of its ski areas in North America through March 22, including Breckenridge and Keystone Resort in Summit County. (Liz Copan/Summit Daily News via AP)

CAN I GO OUTSIDE AT ALL?

Yes, with some exceptions. And the guidelines vary based on where you live.

"We're not being told to stay at home and lock the doors," said Dr. Willam Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert. "We're not there yet, and I don't think we'll get there."

People who have coughs and sneezes should stay home as much as possible, and call ahead to the doctor's office if they're planning to get their illness checked out, he added.

Anyone who has been instructed to self-isolate should not to outdoor unless it's unavoidable.

People who have confirmed coronavirus illness must stay home, as should those who were in close contact with a confirmed case.

WHERE CAN I GO?

Options are becoming limited, with school, gym and restaurant closures and work-from-home edicts.

On March 20, the provincial chief medical officers limited public gatherings of more than 50 people at any indoor or outdoor place.  That includes places of worship and family events such as weddings and funerals.

Retail businesses, including grocery or food stores, shopping centres, pharmacies or gas stations must ensure separation of one to two metres between patrons.

Public transportation facilities must also ensure that people are reasonably able to maintain a separation of one to two metres from others.

Restaurants, bars and movie theatres that are open cannot allow more than 50 people, or half the capacity of the premises, whichever is lesser.  Those establishments must ensure a social distance of one to two metres between customers.

Officials some other jurisdictions have advised people to stay inside and venture out only for necessities.

It's necessary to buy food. But try to go to the supermarket at times when it's less crowded, stay 6 feet away from other shoppers as much as you can, and wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.

CAN I GO TO THE GYM?

Exercise is important. But in Winnipeg, all wellness centres, recreation centres and pools have been closed to slow the transmission of the virus.

If possible (and you have not been instructed to self-isolate), go for jogs, walks or bike rides instead, experts said.  Many gyms are also offering classes online.

CAN I GO ON DATES? OR SEND MY KIDS ON PLAY DATES?

Avoid non-essential gatherings. That means no visits with your neighbours or friends, no play dates, no sleepovers, no parties and especially no public gatherings in crowded spaces, like conferences, concerts or sporting events (if there are any on).

Adults who are not sick or considered to be at risk can still date, Schaffner said. But skip the bars, concerts and crowded theatres (if any are open) and instead think about a walk outdoors or a dinner at home.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, says successful social distancing means no groups of people in homes, play dates for children or faith-based gatherings.

WILL SOCIAL DISTANCING WORK?

It will be tricky to prove these measures made a difference.

People identified with the illness now likely caught it from exposures up to three weeks ago, which is why health officials hope restrictive social distancing policies enacted across Canada in the last two weeks will start to show in upcoming data.

"We're going to see increasing (case) numbers, and that's going to be frustrating to people who are doing social distancing. But that doesn't mean social distancing isn't working" Weatherhead said.

 


With files from The Associated Press. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. 

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History

Updated on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 7:21 PM CDT: Updated with latest information

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