Social distancing becomes key in age of virus

Despite warnings to the contrary, crowds gather at the beach near Herring Point at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes on Friday afternoon in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. No edict has been made to close Delaware beaches as of yet. (Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys)

The phrase “social distancing” is becoming familiar as the state of Delaware now has 39 positive cases of COVID-19, located in each of the counties.

When Gov. John Carney announced a state of emergency last week, and then closed schools, strengthened restrictions on the hospitality industry and banned groups larger than 50, he effectively limited the amount of people who should gather as a way to emphasize social distancing.

“This is a very serious situation, with a significant amount of uncertainty,” he said in a prepared statement at the time. “If you gather with 50 people or more, you are only increasing the risk that more Delawareans will come in contact with this virus. Let’s not make a challenging situation worse.”

But given people’s desire to get outside, the draw of the state’s parks and beaches and the unseasonably warm weather Friday, that situation became even more challenging.

With people gathering too closely together at outside attractions, like the beach, there has been talk about closing the Delaware beaches, but no decisions, said Jon Starkey, a spokesman for the governor’s office.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus — which is an upper respiratory illness that manifests in symptoms such as a cough, fever and shortness of breath — is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

People walk the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach on a warm morning during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys)

People in close contact with one another, within about six feet, can be susceptible to “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” according to the CDC.

Dr. William Chasanov, the director of Clinical Transformation at Beebe Healthcare, said that when practicing social distancing, that means staying away from each other and avoiding large gatherings.

“This is a little bit tricky because this may ask people to change their routine. Places they might go that have a lot of people there, we’re asking them to rethink that,” he said in a Facebook Live. “Maybe they don’t want to go to a place where there is going to be 50 people. They might want to stay away from that.”

Stacey Hofmann, a spokeswoman for Delaware Department of Agriculture working with the Joint Information Center, said social distancing applies even at home.

“The main point is to keep a minimum of six feet apart, so that if someone is out in public and not showing signs of illness that aerosol droplets have less chance of contaminating another person nearby,” she said in an email.

That extends to avoiding any unnecessary visitors and staying home when sick. She noted avoiding large crowds is particularly important for those who are 60 years of age or older; have serious chronic health conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease; or those who are immunocompromised.

That is not to say that these rules need not apply to people who don’t fit the above criteria, however. According to the CDC, everyone can take precautions, including social distancing, to help slow the spread of the virus and protect others from illness.

Visitors enjoy their take-out lunch at the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. (Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys)

In a Facebook Live session, Dr. Scott Olewiler, of Beebe Infectious Disease and Travel Medicine, said social distancing is an important part of preventing community spread of the virus.

According to the CDC, community spread is when people are infected with the virus in an area, “including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.”

“With social distancing, we probably won’t eliminate all spread,” he continued. “The virus will have a case here and there throughout the county, but what we can do, is limit the velocity of spread.”

He added Beebe is prepared to aid critically ill patients, but “what no hospital can prepare for is a sudden flood of 10,000 people all sick at once,” he said.

“Trying to use social distancing is what we think will help limit that velocity to something that is manageable,” he continued.

Ms. Hofmann said if you are taking care of a loved one who is sick, the CDC recommends washing thoroughly.

“If laundry is soiled, wear disposable gloves and keep the soiled items away from your body while laundering. Wash your hands immediately after removing gloves,” she said.

Sharon Harrington, director of strategic communications for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, also strongly encouraged social distancing.

“The best way to reduce the spread of the virus is to stay home when you can,” she said in an email. “Working together to not spread the virus is crucial for our community but also for our caregivers.”

A woman sits alone on Rehoboth Beach. (Special to the Delaware State News/Butch Comegys)

Remaining home if possible and washing hands often helps prevent spread, she said.

“Please be serious about staying at home and not out running around,” she continued. “We don’t have that mass spread here yet but that is how mass spread happens. That is something that we are really looking at, trying to promote with the communities here.”

Ms. Hofmann noted people should get outside and move, for health purposes.

At Delaware State Parks and state wildlife areas, there are no fees or passes required for entrance until April 30, as a way to provide space for activity during the coronavirus period.

“However, if you are feeling ill, please stay home,” she said. “The key is to not join a large group when out at state parks and state forests. If you are enjoying those outdoor sites, make sure to keep that six foot distance even from your friends and loved ones.”

She advised to avoid touching common areas, washing hands using hand sanitizer or soap and water, before heading home.

Health officials recommend maintaining good hygiene practices, such as washing hands often, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (disinfectants with 60 percent alcohol will do, according to the CDC) and avoiding travel.

To help protect mental health as well, the CDC recommends taking a break from “watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.”

The center recommends taking deep breaths, stretching and meditating, as well as taking time to unwind and connecting with others.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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