Social Distancing Introductory Overview

Social distancing terminology

Social distancing is the euphemism for physical distancing which sounds more precise though also ambiguous. Social distancing assumes people’s dispersion, kind of molecularization. The preparation for different steps (isolation and quarantine) is necessary in the management of infectious disease and panic epidemics.  

Quarantine is a medically determinated isolation. It is not the same thing as social distancing. It is a measure taken for people who may have been or might be exposed to the infection. Quarantine is imposed by government or public health organization. Social quarantine is not commonly accepted term although it would reflect the situation when cities, districts, streets are closed or public events are cancelled or forbidden. 

With the avalanche of coronavirus testing, a new popular term such as self-isolation is used. For example, when a football player is tested positive, he goes in self-isolation, quarantine “light”. Home arrest would sound too harsh. Self-seclusion would sound also unpleasant. People are social animals who left caves some years ago. Self-isolation is now also a good option for an official or politician to disappear for a while from the public eye. Zoom can provide a wink.

Anyway, social distancing is the most common term. It sounds artificially in a neighborhood. This is rather a communal dispersion. Social distancing sounds humoristic in a nuclear family relationship.

The social distancing notion is on the top of the COVID-19 epidemic containment triangle dogma (hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing) which is proposed by every official or medical expert. The sequence of these recommendations depends at the speaker’s discretion.

Social distancing variants

The diagram presents main social distancing variants. Perhaps, a more comprehensive classification of social distancing variants exists. However, this diagram is only for orientation in epidemiological significance of different types of social distancing.

SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission

Of course, the goal of social distancing is the prevention of the virus transmission. It is assumed that COVID-19 disease transmission is determined in three ways: droplet of the infection virus (droplet nuclei), contacts, and aerosols. Each of them has different significance for social distancing. The triangle diagram approximately reflects this difference.

Droplet nuclei virus transmission is the most universally accepted reason for social distancing/physical distancing. It is commonly understood transmission from a person with symptoms or no symptomatic but able to shed viruses. Homo hominem lupus est. Man is wolf to man. Every person is a potential suspect of an epidemiologic danger. A healing premise for a society. The main reason to wear a mask additionally to social/physical distancing.

Transmission by contact with virus contaminated surfaces (fomites) is still discussed. Significance for social distancing is doubtful but it an argument for social self-isolation. However, fomites are the undisputable rationale for hand washing.

The most controversial and still disputable is aerosol virus transmission. Only by aerosol transmission could be explained many outbreaks in isolated groups without contacts with apparently ill persons. However, aerosol transmission still lacks scientifically credible studies. Aerosol transmission might be the reason for social distancing in common places, social quarantines, as well as for engineering specifications in construction or maintenance of common places.

This is the introductory post to detailed discussion of some aspects of social distancing. In the following posts will be discussed science behind 6 feet distance, aerosol transmission, and, yes, hand washing rationale. Unfortunately, there is no reliable science regarding social distancing background. Besides objective difficulties in obtaining experimental research data, social distancing dough is kneaded too tight with economic and politic that is not helpful in data collecting and especially in objective assessment of them.

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