How long will we need to keep social distancing?

The need for social distancing will continue into the summer as an important public health tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Experts acknowledge the hardships of public safety measures but say they are important. 

“The nature of social distancing, isolating ourselves and shelter-in–place has been tremendous hardships from an economic and emotional aspect,” said Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic.

Though no one really knows yet what this pandemic will look like come late summer, there is an added concern.

“Many of us think the difficulty this coming fall is that we’ll have return of COVID-19 from the Southern hemisphere on top of our annual influenza epidemic,” Poland said. “And that’s going to be a very difficult thing to try to thread the needle on.” He recommends everyone eligible for a flu vaccine get one as soon as they are available for the next season.

As guidelines are developed to help the nation reopen, the best plans remain what they’ve been all spring: states should use caution, move slowly, conduct contact tracing, test and ensure we can monitor new hotspots.

That way, “if there is a problem,” Poland said, “we detect it early enough to prevent another surge in demand on the medical system.”

Contact tracing is complex and done by public health professionals.

“Contact tracing basically means this: If I were to develop COVID-19, the idea would be that through the public health infrastructure, they would say, ‘OK, in the last 14 days, who have you been in contact with?’ You can imagine how difficult that is and how much labor it takes to do that,” Poland said. “And then they would notify those individuals that they have potentially been exposed through me. And they would also try to trace who was I exposed from, and then be able to try and control the disease or the outbreak of the disease by asking those people to self-quarantine. It’s effective. It’s been demonstrated over and over again if people will do it properly.”

The rest of us regular people can best help slow the spread of Coronavirus by social distancing. And we’re going to be doing it for the foreseeable future.

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