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Coronavirus: Why Social Distancing Saves Lives

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, public health experts are telling us to stay home and practice “social distancing.” Think social distancing doesn’t matter if you’re young and healthy? Think again. It’s not about you– it’s about protecting the community. And in this Above the Noise video, we get into why it’s so important, even if you’re not in a high risk category.

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***Why is the coronavirus or COVID-19 so dangerous?
Coronavirus is a virus that causes the disease COVID-19. And the major symptoms of COVID-19 include high fevers, dry cough and shortness of breath. About 80% of the time, the symptoms are pretty mild: fever, dry cough, and some aches and pains. But it can get pretty deadly and devastating– about 14% of cases require medical care, and about 5% of the time it can be critical or deadly, landing people in the ICU. And it’s pretty contagious. According to the CDC the most common way to get it is if germs from an infected person’s sneeze or cough lands in your mouth, nose or you breath it in through your lungs. But you could also get by touching your mouth, nose or eyes after touching contaminated surfaces.

***What is social distancing?
Basically, social distancing is the idea of keeping people physically away from each other in order to help slow the spread of a disease. Stay home when you can, avoid public transit and crowds, and only go out when it’s necessary. It means no parties, or group hang outs, no sharing drinks, no hugging or hand shaking– you’re supposed to stay 6ft away from each other. Some places, like San Francisco’s Bay Area have gone a step further and issued “shelter in place” orders– which basically means you need to stay home, unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out– like go get groceries or medicine. This translates to lots of people working from home or doing virtual school, with the exception of people who work in “essential services” like medical personnel, grocery store employees, cops, garbage collectors, etc.

**What is flattening the curve?
Viruses tend to spread exponentially. And what this means is that at first you don’t see too many people affected by it, but then overtime you slowly see more cases until all of a sudden tons of people have it. When this happens the healthcare system can get overloaded– there aren’t enough hospital beds and equipment. More people end up dying. But, if you slow the spread of the virus– through interventions like social distancing– BEFORE it really starts to take off and infect lots of people, then the “curve” won’t be so high– it’s flatter– meaning that fewer people will get sick at one time. So hospitals are less likely to run out of beds or life saving equipment. Even if the total number of people who get the virus is the same with or without social distancing, with social distancing fewer people are likely to die because the disease is spread out over time. As people get treated and recover over time, hospital beds and equipment free up so they can treat people who get the disease later.

Selected Sources:
Coronavirus Transmission (CDC):
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/transmission.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Ftransmission.html

Clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) when COVID-19 disease is suspected (WHO):
https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/331446/WHO-2019-nCoV-clinical-2020.4-eng.pdf

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptoms (CDC):
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fsymptoms.html

Flattening A Pandemic’s Curve: Why Staying Home Now Can Save Lives (NPR): https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/13/815502262/flattening-a-pandemics-curve-why-staying-home-now-can-save-lives
Rapid Response Was Crucial to Containing the 1918 Flu Pandemic (NIH):
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/rapid-response-was-crucial-containing-1918-flu-pandemic

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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.