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To practice social distancing, stay 6 feet away

Listen to Today, Explained to learn about the go-to rules for this public health intervention that slows the spread of coronavirus.

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People wait in line at a Best Buy while observing social distancing in Huntington Station, New York, on March 19, 2020.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, we need to slow it down. And one of the best ways to do that is through social distancing, a public health intervention that encourages people to avoid well, other people. That means events with large crowds such as weddings, concerts, sports, have been canceled. And places where people congregate publicly — like restaurants — are not seating customers. Even schools and offices are closing. The overall guideline for this best practice: stay six feet away.

On this episode of Today, Explained, Vox’s daily explainer podcast, Vox science reporter Brian Resnick goes over the fundamental rules — or five commandments — of social distancing as we currently practice it. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of Brian’s conversation with host Sean Rameswaram about the go-to rules you should follow.

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Brian Resnick

The most important commandment is the first one. And it’s your responsibility to not just protect yourself, but to protect others. So that’s the whole point of all this social distancing. We’re not just keeping ourselves safe and well. We’re keeping other people who we could spread this virus to safe and well.

Sean Rameswaram

Do you feel this way? Because people aren’t protecting others. They’re just protecting themselves. Do you feel, like, a selfishness? Let’s look around here. I mean, there’s no one in this park, but I certainly saw, like, kids playing on my way over here. Should they not be playing with each other?

Brian Resnick

Today I saw I think CBS News got it in Miami. A bunch of spring breakers who are like all in their teens or early 20s talking about how, like, they didn’t want to ruin their fun. But the thing is, young people can get this disease and not necessarily get the worse symptoms or necessarily die from it in high numbers, but they can disproportionately spread it to some of the most vulnerable people among us. And so you don’t want to be the cause of someone’s death.

Sean Rameswaram

Commandment 1: Protect others as you would thyself. Brian, commandment 2?

Brian Resnick

The second one is to obey your public health department. This one, yes, there is a general recommendation or guideline from the federal government that we should not congregate in groups of 10 people. But depending on where you live, in your situation and in your city or state, the situation will look very different.

For example, in the Bay Area, people are being asked to shelter in place, which basically means like don’t leave the home under most conditions, if not necessary at all. So listen to your public health department or mayor’s office or sometimes governor’s office.

And remember, too, like the overall federal guidelines. Groups of 10 or more, you should really avoid it. And, you know, and also, like when in doubt, avoid, if you find yourself thinking, “Oh, do I really need to go see this person?” And if the answer is no, like, there’s just so much not known about this virus. And also because testing hasn’t been very good and widespread. We don’t know where it is. And unfortunately, right now in this really uncertain period where it is starting to spread exponentially, better safe than sorry may be a good place to start.

Sean Rameswaram

Commandment 2: Obey thy public health department.

Brian Resnick

Commandment 3 is if you feel sick, any member of your household feels sick, or if you feel like you’ve been exposed to this virus, please stay home. Please quarantine yourself, or if you’re sick, put yourself in isolation and do not touch or contact or go near people who are not sick.

Sean Rameswaram

If you think thyself sick, self-isolate or quarantine. Okay, Brian, commandment 4.

Brian Resnick

This is a big one too. Social distancing is a little bit of a misnomer. It’s physical distancing. We’re supposed to be physically apart from one another. But that doesn’t mean we can’t care about each other and be checking on each other. So like social distancing does not mean emotional distancing, does not mean letting people be lonely by themselves, especially the older people who may not have a lot of mobility to begin with and are now even more isolated because, you know, we’re being told not to go near older people. So check in on them.

Sean Rameswaram

Brian, this is my favorite commandment yet.

Brian Resnick

It’s a good one. It’s hopeful. It’s the most proactive one. We can help each other because isolation and loneliness is going to be a terrible problem for a lot of people who are already isolated and lonely. And it’s going to be a tough time for a lot of people.

And just to check on them, but not like physically check on them.

Sean Rameswaram: Commandment 4 is my favorite yet, not going to do God voice because I liked it so much. Social distance is physical distance. Call your mom. Call your grandma if you still got one. Keep in touch with your people. Brian. Commandment 5.

Brian Resnick

Commandment 5 is a simple one, too. We have to remember one number, actually five is six, because you’re supposed to say six feet away from other people. This virus spreads by droplets that spread out of your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. And six feet is like the splash zone. So if you can, if you have to go out, try to maintain six feet of distance between other people.

Watch Today, Explained’s “Six Feet Away” dance:

And listen to the song here:

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