Maintaining at least 1 meter or 3 feet distance between yourself and others helps reduce the chances of being infected or spreading Covid-19 but many families are having difficulty balancing the social distancing expectations.
Social distancing, a challenge within a family setting
University of New South Wales’s Senior Lecturer Holly Seale shares that how people perceive their risk can change when we are around the people we love. They don’t necessarily keep their distance in their family home and while it’s a natural thing to let their guard down, a study from China shows that the risk of being infected by was 20 times higher for the spouse and nine times higher for other family members than social activity contacts. These refer to friends with whom you do not live with.
Seale said these findings are not surprising since family members will have more close contact with one another and for longer periods within their family home. The risk is also compounded as we are less likely to implement protective measures when we are around our loved ones, such as wearing a mask or washing hands.
What makes a family and friends’ gathering a “superspreader” event?
There are also a few common factors that could heighten the risk at family gatherings, including birthdays and funerals. Shared bathrooms, crowded spaces, indoors, mingling and hugging in celebration or condolence increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission. The author added that although there is no evidence yet that Covid-19 can be transmitted by food, gathering around food service area and sharing utensils can pose risks. Furthermore, it is unlikely for people to use a face mask or face shield in such settings.
As restrictions in some places were lifted, some people started to invite their family members and friends to social events. They go to restaurants, for instance, where they tend to sit close to other members of the group. There is a possibility that they would take food from a common serving dish while laughing and talking. Yet, Covid-19 transmission has been linked to restaurants too. Birthday parties are one of the “superspreader events” referred to by BBC. Other events include choir practice and bar nights. One night out with a single infected person can lead to dozens of Covid-19 cases.
On June 8, Harper's Restaurant and Brew Pub in the US opened its door to customers after weeks of pandemic closures. Managers were trained on safe practices and tables were positioned six feet apart. The indoor restaurant’s capacity was likewise limited to half of its normal crowed pre-pandemic, allowing 225 customers in. However, a reported 152 infections across Michigan as of July 2 has been linked to Harper’s, reported BBC.
A risky territory
Harvard Medical School’s public health researcher and physician Dr. Abraar Karan told the daily that a birthday party can have “all the ingredients for a superspreading event.” Imagine if people are indoors at a party and they meet plenty of close contacts. There is also a possibility of them lining up to use the bathroom and they can crowd together in small hallways. Social distancing seems impossible in these areas. More problems arise as people eat and drink as they’ll unlikely use facial coverings while they eat. The strict social distancing guidance may also be outright ignored once guests begin drinking. To help curb the spread, Dr. Karan asked people to change their behaviors and do things that are not natural to them. For example, when people are drinking alcohol, it is more likely that they will go back to their normal behavior and they would be less inhibited. So, they may forget the need for physical distancing.
Dr. Karan added that there has also been some evidence that air conditioners can contribute to the transmission as these could potentially blow droplets along the path.
Hand hygiene can be influenced by how we feel about the person
It is also worth noting that even if people are trained on how, why, and when to conduct hand hygiene, it could still be affected by how we feel about the person that is in front of them. Seale also believes that the condition, including the level of cleanliness and physical appearance, of a patient can influence the handwashing behaviors of a nurse.
Not everyone right now lives with someone else, but there are places where it is financially burdensome to live alone. It is in these places where self-isolation can also mean increased proximity to other people, our roommates, partners, or kids. It is in these proximities that disease can also spread.
The coronavirus can travel from one person to the next if people are close to each other. This is why keeping distance can help break the chain of infections. But since we cannot always easily choose to stay away from other people as many go to work, it can be helpful for the government to intervene.
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shares three countries that are considered “Pandemic Exemplars.” This means they are among the countries that responded successfully to the pandemic. This includes Vietnam, Germany, and South Korea.
Vietnam, for instance, has a strong commitment to containment. The country’s testing capacity ramped up quickly from two testing sites in January to 120 by May. They decided on a strategy of using testing to quickly identify the clusters and prevent wider transmissions. As of May 2020, Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest Covid-19 tests (966.7) for each confirmed case, followed by New Zealand (166.7), Taiwan (152.6), Australia (115), and South Korea (60).
Meanwhile, Germany has a strong enabling environment. It did not prevent the outbreak but people’s prevention protocols facilitated Germany’s response to the outbreak. From 6,294 daily confirmed Covid-19 cases and 72 deaths on March 28, it went down to 955 daily confirmed cases and 7 deaths as of August 1. It is believed that the German government entered the Covid-19 outbreak with a detailed National Pandemic Plan.
Families can still socially distance without alienating their members and friends, who would want to continue to expand their circle for support during a pandemic. What they can do is to set clear boundaries, clearly communicate the limits, and find other creative ways to spend time with people who are most important to them