COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

Why physical distancing applies to you – yes, you

Physical distancing is not an over-reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it applies to everyone, even you. Yes, you. Why? Because it is the only strategy we have left to avoid a massive surge of patients in our hospitals.

“We need to curb the peak of the pandemic, so it doesn’t overwhelm our health-care system,” Dr. Jerome Leis, medical director of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook, told the Toronto Star in an interview last week.

What physical distancing means

Toronto Public Health defines physical distancing as avoiding close contact with others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Measures you can take include:

  • Staying home as much as possible by avoiding non-essential trips in the community
  • Cancelling gatherings
  • Working from home, where possible
  • Conducting meetings virtually
  • Keeping kids away from group settings

If you must go out, keep a six-foot distance from others. Why six feet? That’s about the maximum distance that droplets from a person’s cough or sneeze can travel, which is one of the ways the virus is spread.

Of course, physical distancing is not always possible, especially if you are someone who provides an essential service, such as a health care worker. However, you can still take precautions like practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding congregating in common areas like cafeterias, and not going to work if you are feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms.

System-wide pressures

To be clear, the concern is not solely because of the virus itself. The concern is the impact it can have on a healthcare system when hundreds or even thousands of these cases happen all at once, like what is currently happening in Italy and Spain.

While the reported mortality rate is low from the virus, what that does not reflect is the strain put on every other area of the healthcare system. Other people still need heart surgery, cancer treatment, dialysis or get into car crashes. How can you maintain the resources, supplies and manpower to continue taking care of those people, while at the same time dealing with a massive influx of people with respiratory illnesses and potential staffing issues?

It’s important that we learn from the current experiences of other these other countries. Slowing the rate of community spread will be helpful in our efforts to avoid a similar situation.

Dr. Rob Fowler, critical care physician and chief of the Tory Trauma Program at Sunnybrook, co-authored a study in JAMA last week that examined Canada’s readiness to care for an influx of patients requiring a ventilator.

In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, Dr. Fowler said: “Canada, probably because of the SARS experience, is probably a bit more prepared than most places in the world. But there’s a very narrow sweet spot and it could easily be overwhelmed.”

Talking to your kids

Physical distancing applies to kids, too. With schools across the province closed for the next few weeks, kids may have a lot of questions, ranging from concerns about the virus to why their friend’s birthday party was cancelled.

Dr. Rachel Mitchell, a youth psychiatrist at Sunnybrook, told CBC in an interview this week: “obviously, the conversation you have with a five-year-old is not going to be the same conversation that you have with a 10-year-old, which is not the same conversation that you’re going to have with a teenager.” Read the full story with her recommendations here.

Keeping up with information

At first glance, it seems like there is a lot of conflicting information out there. I will be the first to admit that it’s challenging to keep up with the rapid pace at which information changes, and as a communicator, it’s my job to keep up.

However, information is changing so rapidly, many things you’ve read or heard are likely no longer relevant or accurate within a day or two. It’s not necessarily a matter of reading or hearing conflicting information. It’s a matter of whether you are reading or hearing the latest information. This is an important distinction.

If you are scrolling through social media and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information on COVID-19, you are not alone. It’s easy to want to give up and tune it all out. If you can, identify a few trusted, reputable and credible sources to check back with frequently, such as, and

What’s next?

While it’s difficult to predict what each day will bring, more stringent measures may need to be implemented as the situation continues to evolve.

As the number of cases increase across the country, it’s essential that we all continue to listen to public health directives and take them seriously: stay home as much as you can, wash your hands frequently and, of course, practice physical distancing. Our health care system depends on it.

About the author

Sybil Millar

Sybil Millar is the Communications Advisor for Infection Prevention and Control, Infectious Diseases, the Ross Tilley Burn Centre and the Critical Care program at Sunnybrook.

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