- States, governments, and medical professionals are calling for social distancing to help combat spread of the novel coronavirus.
- Social distancing has been effective, though maybe difficult to visualize.
- One Instagram video uses matchsticks to explain the practice.
Social distancing. It’s the vaguely authoritarian-sounding term now ubiquitous across your social media feeds and family dinner convos and, somehow, Scrubs re-runs. It is also, however, an extremely effective public health strategy for slowing the spread of a virus.
That effectiveness is probably best illustrated by Hong Kong, a city that instituted social distancing almost immediately after the appearance of positive coronavirus cases. They closed schools, canceled large public events, and shut down offices. Since then, they’ve seen rates plateau while other countries like South Korea and Italy witnessed sharp increases in cases over the same time period.
Social distancing works to slow the spread of disease by mitigating unnecessary contact among people. The goal is to “flatten the curve,” or ensure that the number of positive cases doesn’t exceed the capacity of a given healthcare system.
Here’s the CDC’s definition:
[Social distancing means] remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.
Visualizing how exactly such measure prevent disease spread can be difficult. One Instagram video from animator Juan Declan, however, has become a popular visual aid.
The video shows a line of matches lit successively like a line of gunpowder. One match, stepping out of line, stops the spread like an action hero kicking a path through the gunpowder before it blows up his partner.
The point here is that each of us can potentially erase a series of contact points which cause the virus to spread through us to other people. We are each, in this sense, a link in a causal chain. By practicing social distancing, we remove ourselves from the chain. We break the chain. We prevent the spread.
The imagery is clear and could come right from Smokey Bear: only you can prevent matchstick metaphors from turning into more fatalities.
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