Social distancing is an ethical responsibility

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase, social distancing is a historically proven means of limiting the spread of infection.


There is nothing I like more than meeting up with friends under normal circumstances. However, while my friends chose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a bar crawl on Saturday, I distanced myself from people and stayed at home. 

I tried to ignore the many parties around my off-campus apartment and the Instagram stories of my peers dressed in green when the dreaded email appeared on my screen: Temple University confirmed one student tested positive for COVID-19.

All I wished at that moment was that others chose to stay at home, too.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It causes respiratory illnesses. The disease has since spread to dozens of countries, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.

Temple University switched to online learning for the remainder of the semester starting March 16, with students living in residential halls asked to vacate by March 21, The Temple News reported. 

But instead of understanding the seriousness of this situation in light of the measures the university and the city are taking, some students took the abrupt change as an opportunity to party.

Unlike other countries, the United States did not take strict measures to shut down public gatherings amid the spread of the virus across the nation at that point. 

President Donald Trump’s administration did not advise against gatherings of more than 10 people until Monday, lowering the former recommendation of 250, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

Gov. Tom Wolf’s approach has been emphasizing that it is the responsibility of every individual to help mitigate the spread, according to the governor’s website.

We all have to do our part. 

The easiest thing we can do is social distancing, which refers to certain actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease, like limiting exposure to the general community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Current information shows the person-to-person spread of infection happens most frequently within six feet of contact, the CDC reported.

Put simply, you should avoid contact with others whenever possible and leave your house only when absolutely necessary.

The pandemic’s spread throughout the U.S. might not look like a big deal right now, with more than 185 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania and one death linked to the disease in the state as of March 19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The internet is filled with numbers comparing the death toll of COVID-19 to other illnesses, including influenza, another respiratory illness. 

But there is one essential difference: there is no vaccine and unlike the flu, researchers don’t have enough data to accurately assess the deadliness of the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported.

Available information changes every day. The latest research suggests people spread COVID-19 before they show any symptoms, a fact previously underestimated by federal officials, CNN reported on Monday.

Research confirmed that COVID-19 was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, on copper for up to four, on cardboard for up to 24 and on plastic and stainless steel for up to two to three days, the National Institute of Health reported. 

Not enough is known about the virus but we do know that social distancing works — the strategy saved thousands of lives during both the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the 2009 swine flu pandemic in Mexico, the New York Times reported.

All it takes to cause a severe outbreak is one individual.

In South Korea, a single person who tested positive for coronavirus, called patient 31, exposed thousands of people to the virus before she was tested, with hundreds of them confirmed to contract the virus, Reuters reported.

Chris Carey, senior associate dean of students, encouraged all students to return home and advised those staying in their off-campus housing to follow public health advice, in an email sent to the student body on Monday.

“Make sure that you are not engaging in behavior like hosting or attending parties that will put you, your peers, and your family and communities at higher risk for the spread of COVID-19,” Carey wrote in the email.

Krys Johnson, epidemiology and biostatistics professor, warned against sharing drinks, food or utensils with other people during this time.

“We keep hearing that young people are not as susceptible to the coronavirus and the more information we get we actually find that young people are ending up in ICU with this,” Johnson said. “They might not be dying because they have more resilient bodies but they still have pretty severe reactions.”

Johnson also advised against social gatherings.

“I don’t want people to be going to parties be like, ‘Oh well, I will be fine,’” she added. “You might be fine but you might still have scarring in your lungs … Is that really worth going to hang out?”

Christian Harris, a junior chemistry major, was invited to a party this upcoming Friday which he decided to skip.

“I don’t know if anyone has come in contact with an infected person,” Harris said. “There is too much of a risk of me contracting it and then giving it to my dad who is fighting cancer and my girlfriend who is also immunosuppressed.”

With my friends living in the heart of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Italy and under differently strict quarantines across Europe, I know firsthand how bad things can turn very quickly, if we don’t take precaution immediately. 

My own native country, the Czech Republic, has more than 630 confirmed cases and no deaths as of March 19, and went into national quarantine for two weeks starting March 16, following the model of other European countries, Prague Morning reported.

We should learn from other countries that have faced this outbreak earlier than us and from their response to it, before the situation worsens in the U.S. We still have time to make the right decision and take precautions.

Starting with you. 

And it’s not just about you. Luisa Maria Suarez, a sophomore journalism and political science major, takes precaution mainly because of people in her life.

“For me right now social distancing is very important because I have an older father and my mom has asthma, so like I am taking it incredibly seriously,” Suarez said. “If I have to go get groceries, of course I go get groceries but I am not trying to really make physical contact with people like shake hands or anything like that.”

Our biggest fear shouldn’t be that we all are going to die, but that a sudden spike in confirmed cases will overwhelm hospitals and cause a lack of appropriate patient care for the ones who need it the most — elderly and immunocompromised people.

In the end, hopefully the number of infected people will stay low and it will all seem like we overreacted — and that would be the best possible outcome. That would mean we succeeded. 

So please, do the simplest thing that can be asked of you in this situation — stay home.

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