How much social distancing?
March 14, 2020 9:14 AM   Subscribe

We're moving house--just as coronavirus has really escalated. I'm overwhelmed so please tell me: should I be doing ALL hangouts remotely/over the phone, even 1:1s?

There are a handful of cases in our city and surrounding cities (Bay Area) that suggest community spread. I'm in my early 30s, pretty good health but very prone to bad bronchitis so pretty coronavirus cautious. My partner is the same. We have a few dear friends who have offered to help us move this weekend and I'm honestly just so fried I can't decide whether to accept their help in person or just hang out with them over the phone.

We've all (friends included) been working from home this past week, but have all been out in the world at least once grocery shopping or on transit. They're all responsible people re: handwashing etc but I think are less personally concerned about coronavirus than us.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Health & Fitness (4 answers total)
This Atlantic article about social distancing (also posted in an AskMe earlier today) has experts discussing about how social distancing is more about avoiding groups than avoiding 1:1 interactions. If your friends and you are asymptomatic it shouldn’t be a problem to move together. Just wash your hands a lot, don’t sneeze on each other, etc.
posted by ejs at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's difficult to accurately quantify your risk, or that of your friends. It often takes days post-contact before any symptoms appear. The only option that is completely safe is to avoid contact with your friends.

But --- You're asking "Should I" and the answer really depends on your goal. If your goal is to minimize the chance of becoming infected above all else, then of course the answer is: do not come into contact with your friends at all. Since you're asking this question, I am assuming that your goal is more nuanced than that; likely it includes having a smooth move, as well as the social benefits of cooperation and visits with friends.

To answer this question properly, you would need to determine your acceptable level of risk and then calculate what to do based on that. That's very hard to do right now, with the sporadic testing and lack of dependable data available. The extent of community spread isn't clear at all to me, and I am reasonably well informed and able to interpret the information that's out there (although I am not a medical doctor, so don't take this as medical advice).

My personal calculation has been: based on that lack of data, since I can't reliably gauge my own risk, I am erring on the side of caution and canceling everything I can for the time being, and maintaining strict distancing in unavoidable interactions. That's the advice I'm giving to my friends and family as well. Hopefully you'll find my thoughts helpful in making your own decision here.
posted by dbx at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2020

If your friends don’t help you move, will different people be handling all your items or you’ll do it all yourselves? I think that matters for the risk assessment.
posted by janell at 9:48 AM on March 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

If your friends and you are asymptomatic it shouldn’t be a problem to move together.

There is additional reporting on transmission by people without symptoms, including from the Guardian: Coronavirus: many infections spread by people yet to show symptoms – scientists
An analysis of infections in Singapore and Tianjin in China revealed that two-thirds and three-quarters of people respectively appear to have caught it from others who were incubating the virus but still symptom-free.
The first author of this article is an epidemiologist, and the second is a graduate student: They’ve Contained the Coronavirus. Here’s How. (Benjamin J. Cowling and Wey Wen Lim, NYT Opinion) (emphasis mine)
Since identifying the first infections (all imported) on their territories — on Jan. 21 in Taiwan and on Jan. 23 in both Hong Kong and Singapore — all three governments have implemented some combination of measures to (1) reduce the arrival of new cases into the community (travel restrictions), (2) specifically prevent possible transmission between known cases and the local population (quarantines) and (3) generally suppress silent transmission in the community by reducing contact between individuals (self-isolation, social distancing, heightened hygiene).
Also, as noted in WaPo: Social distancing could buy U.S. valuable time against coronavirus
“Whenever you see the virus, it’s moved on already — it will have infected other people by the time you become aware of it,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

[...] Social distancing won’t just require government-level decisions — individual people will need to take steps to change their daily routines, based on their own judgment and the local situation. By the time it stops feeling silly to consider major life changes, it may be too late.
posted by katra at 11:25 AM on March 14, 2020 [10 favorites]

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