Public health officials are asking Canadians to practice physical (social) distancing as a key tool in the containment of COVID-19. Why is this and what are the implications? 

Professor Shannon Majowicz of the School of Public Health and Health Systems explains why and how this method is effective.

What happens if we don’t practice physical distancing?

Things will get very bad – very, very quickly. COVID-19 is a serious issue – one of the most serious diseases we’ve faced in our lifetimes, and it demands our attention and action. 

Everyone is vulnerable. If we don’t all do our part, and work together to enact the recommended public health measures now and fully, COVID-19 will continue to grow in Canada, at an exponential rate, meaning that we could go from where we are now (just starting to see its impacts) to where places like Italy are (an overwhelmed and collapsing health system) in a distressingly short amount of time. 

What is the science behind physical distancing?

This virus is spread by people, and a main driver of how it has -- and will -- spread is our actions and behaviours. The virus requires contact between people to spread. Physical distancing, if we all do it and do it well, removes that contact by creating a gap between people that the virus can’t jump.  

This distancing isn’t just for people who are sick! People who are well can still be a jumping point for the virus to move from one of us to another. This is why all of us, regardless of how we’re feeling, need to practice physical distancing.

How long will we be required to practice physical distancing?

 This is hard to know, in part because this is a new virus that we are still racing to understand.  But it is reasonable to expect we will be asked to practice physical distancing in some form until our health-care system and testing capacities can be appropriately scaled up and until we start to have effective treatments. 

Places like China, where case numbers are now starting to drop, have been at this for months. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

The University of Waterloo has a number of experts available for comment on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here to see the up-to-date list.

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