Well, as if the coronavirus hasn’t been enough to worry about, earthquakes are sure to drive up feelings of anxiety at an exponential growth rate similar to the coronavirus. For weeks, we have been inundated with news reports and social media on implementing “social distancing” in just about every environment of our daily lives. Then in a split second, we are thrust from mandated distancing to holding onto people next to us as we ride out the earth moving under our feet.

While the earthquake put a glitch in our ability to maintain social distancing, the human connection may have been the saving grace that we needed.

The seriousness of the coronavirus is true. However, as humans, we long for knowns and social interaction. It is important to protect ourselves and others from the present health threat by practicing good hygiene: handwashing with soap for 20 seconds, cough into our elbow and avoid touching our face. Locking down community establishments, schools and workplaces may seem overkill for a virus, but looking at the impact it has had on other countries and currently its rapid growth in the U.S., social distancing is justified.

Many of us have loved ones with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, that make it difficult for their bodies to fight the virus. For those of us absent of any acute (temporary) or chronic (long-term) health conditions, it is likely that we may have the virus and either fully experience the flu-like symptoms of a cough, low-grade temperature and shortness of breath or have them be so mild that we don’t notice.

So if we aren’t feeling sick, why avoid contact with others? Simple. The virus is active even before symptoms are felt or recognized. So with a neighbor who has diabetes to the left of you and a neighbor who is suffering from chronic bronchitis to the right of you, although you miss spending time with them, it is in everyone’s best interest to maintain distance.

The moment of the earthquake, I had to fight the urge to run house to house checking on my neighbors. Pre-social distancing, I would not have hesitated to physically knock on doors, but our current health crisis instead sent me rushing for my phone to contact people. What if they don’t answer? Should I go over to their house? Which is more important, getting confirmation others are safe and unharmed, even if it means exposing them to the possibility I am silently hosting the coronavirus, or not acting?

Fortunately, one by one people responded back. It still doesn’t answer the question of when to violate the rules of social distancing.

For the next few weeks to months, there will continue to be situations of uncertainty about engaging in others’ physical space. For the moment, health agencies are heeding advice to maintain distance. In general, consider the risk to reward outcomes. Does the reward greatly override the risk, and not just for you but for the community?

For those who don’t see the risk in interacting with others, perhaps it is a level of ignorance or lack of understanding of the risks.

With many people working from home and experiencing cabin fever, heading outside is a good idea, pending the number of people you may come in contact with. Walking along a narrow trail may require people in passing to come within 1 foot of each other. Stepping off the trail introduces other concerns, such as erosion of vegetation. Getting outside and staying active is important to health, so consider your options to walk along more open areas that allow for continued social distancing practices. It’s also a great way to maintain safety while engaging in conversation with neighbors. The risk is low because of distancing. The rewards are high because you get to see your friends. A smile from a friend is a big reward!

Alysia Cohen is an Assistant Professor of Athletic Training at Weber State University.

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