Busting coronavirus social distancing myths

As states and communities around the U.S. take action against the spread of coronavirus by closing schools and canceling public events, Marc Lipsitch and Joseph Allen of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health busted a few common myths about social distancing.

In a March 16, 2020 op-ed in USA Today, Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology, and Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment Science, wrote that it is not just the elderly and others at high risk from coronavirus who should restrict their contact with others. Anyone can become infected and transmit the virus. So in order to slow the spread—and protect the most vulnerable people—everyone needs to stay away from crowded places and social gatherings, they wrote.

Other myths they pointed out include:

  • Coronavirus is spread only from coughing and sneezing. It can actually be spread three ways—from large droplets emitted through coughing and sneezing; contact with contaminated surfaces; and breathing in airborne virus (the small amount of aerosolized droplets that remain aloft after a cough or sneeze).
  • If we do enough social distancing, we will see dramatic results immediately. It takes time for infected people to become sick enough to require hospitalization. The effects of social distancing will likely be more apparent several weeks from now.
  • Social distancing for a period of a month or so may be enough to stop the epidemic permanently. Even if case numbers go down, they can resurge when controls are relaxed.

“Unfortunately, we are in this for a long haul,” they wrote. “We need to prepare to pull together, help one another and preserve social cohesion while we use social distancing to combat the virus.”

Read the USA Today op-ed: Coronavirus reality check: 7 myths about social distancing, busted