Social Distancing Is Still Important Even as Cities Reopen
Just because society is reopening doesn’t mean it’s safe to hang out at parties
Over the long weekend, revelers from Daytona Beach to Houston flouted social distancing guidelines with raucous celebrations and crowded pool parties. Technically, they weren’t breaking any rules: Stay-at-home orders in Florida and Texas have expired, and all U.S. states and territories have eased their shutdowns to varying degrees to jump-start their suffering economies. Social distancing, once a rule, is now considered guidance.
But just because it isn’t illegal to get together now doesn’t mean that social distancing isn’t still critical for keeping you and your loved ones safe. The coronavirus hasn’t been eliminated from the United States — far from it — which means that there are still people getting infected, potentially walking around and infecting people around them. You’re still at risk of becoming infected if you come into contact with someone who has tested positive. And if you are infected but asymptomatic, you risk spreading the virus to people you interact with. Going to public places, especially crowded ones where you get within six feet of another person, increases that risk.
Perhaps the reopening of places like businesses, beaches, and churches sent out a confusing signal suggesting it’s safe to resume regular life. After all, why would officials allow cities to reopen if it wasn’t safe to do so?
But risk is not black and white: It exists on a spectrum, and the officials who have sanctioned reopening have deemed the risk of Covid-19 spread to be low enough that people can hang out in public again. It’s also worth noting that some of these decisions are made based on hospital capacity. It’s not that spread risk is low, but hospitals have reached a place where they might be able to handle the number of infections. It’s bleak but true. Unsurprisingly, public health experts have strongly contested the interpretation that it’s safe to reopen, arguing that the risk of catching and spreading the disease remains too high to do so safely. Here’s a helpful rule of thumb if you ever need clarity: As long as the coronavirus is still circulating in the population, your risk of infection can never be zero.