If you’ve followed recommendations from public health officials, you probably have been practicing social distancing for several weeks now to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And, if your family and friends have done the same, it’s only natural to wonder if it’s OK to meet up in person again.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as you’d think. Here’s why.
Why is social distancing important?
Before we dive into whether it’s okay to spend time with people who are also social distancing, it’s important to recap why heath officials recommend this measure in the first place.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists social distancing as one of the best tools people have to avoid being exposed to COVID-19 and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Practicing social distancing means the following, per the CDC:
Stay at least 6 feet from other people
Don’t gather in groups
Stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings
“Right now, we don’t have any medications to treat the infection and we don’t have a vaccine to prevent the infection. Because of that, the only way to slow the transmission of COVID-19 down is preventing person to person transmission,” Jill Weatherhead, M.D., an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “The more we can keep people apart so they don’t directly or indirectly infect someone, the more we can slow down transmission.”
Can you hang out with people who are also practicing social distancing?
It’s not recommended. “Social distancing isn’t perfect,” says Suzanne Willard, Ph.D., a clinical professor and associate dean for global health at the Rutgers School of Nursing. “Even if you’re largely staying home, you could pick COVID-19 up from the grocery store or from handling mail,” she adds.
People who have been infected with COVID-19 can take anywhere from two to 14 days to develop symptoms, according to the CDC, so you could be infected for up to two weeks and not even know it. Unfortunately, people can spread the virus before they develop symptoms, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “When you have a virus that spreads in this manner, any kind of social interaction increases your risk for acquiring or transmitting the virus,” says Adalja.
CDC director Robert Redfield, M.D., recently said on NPR that 25 percent of people with COVID-19 don’t even know they have the virus, so there are likely a decent number of people out there spreading COVID-19 without even realizing it. You and your friends could be a part of that group too.
Even if you haven’t left your home, interacted with anyone or even touched mail for 14 days, interacting with other social distancers is still not a good idea, Willard says. “You don’t know what other people consider social distancing. They could infect you.”
Until public health officials say otherwise, Weatherhead advises, “it’s really best to keep your distance from people outside your household.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.