Here's how "social distancing" is defined by the Government of Canada

Mar 14 2020, 9:51 am

The world is facing a pandemic.

Large-scale events are being cancelled or postponed left and right, and your friends called off weekly wine night citing the need for “social distancing.”

While you’ve likely seen the term “self-isolation” used over the past week to describe our government’s recommendation for anyone returning from international travel or who may have been in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19, “social distancing” seems somewhat new to Canada’s collective vocabulary.

So what, exactly, does social distancing mean for Canadians?

Well, it’s quite close to what you’d assume (if you’re assuming something along the lines of “being distant socially, obviously?”) though it’s important to note that, according to the Government of Canada, the term actually encompasses a lot regarding response measures to coronavirus cases.

The report “Community-based measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Canada” found on the Government of Canada’s website states that:

“Social distancing measures are approaches taken to minimize close contact with others in the community and include: quarantine and self-isolation at the individual level as well as other community based approaches (e.g. avoiding crowding, school measures and closures, workplace measures and closures, public/mass gathering cancellations) which are further described in the section titled community-based measures below.”

This means that social distancing actually encompasses everything from full-on quarantine to just generally avoiding crowded places, cancelling that wine night, or working from home.

It is also noted in the report that social distancing can mean the loss of income, a potentially reduced availability of services, and an elevated need for support services.

The different levels of social distancing are described as follows:

  • Mandatory quarantine: Defined as “the imposed separation or restriction of movement of individuals, groups, or communities, for a defined period of time and in a location determined by the public health authority (PHAs).”
  • Isolation: Not leaving your home, using public transportation, having supplies delivered rather than doing your own errands, and, in the case that you do need to leave your home, wearing a mask and maintaining two metres distance from others.
  • Voluntary home quarantine (“self-isolation”): remaining in a home setting and avoiding contact with others.
  • Protective self-separation: Avoiding contact with others, and staying home when possible. Recommended for those who are high-risk (older adults, those with chronic underlying medical conditions or immunocompromised).
  • Voluntary avoidance of crowded places: Involves avoiding crowded places or anywhere that rapid self-isolation may not be possible at the onset of symptoms.

The Government of Canada also included a chart to determine recommended public health measures to take given a person’s individual risk, contact, and travel history:

social distancing

Recommended individual public health measures (Government of Canada)

“Okay, but why should we care about social distancing?” an asymptomatic, not-at-high-risk-of-complications, without-COVID-19-or-any-exposure-risk type of person might be asking.

While it may seem like all these closures and cancellations and recommendations might be a little much given that there have only been 200 or so cases in Canada as of March 14, these are all being implemented as precautionary measures in an effort to flatten the curve.

This curve, that is:

social distancing

Goal of Public Health Measures (Government of Canada)

The goal, as shown above, is to both delay and lessen the severity of the peak number of cases during an outbreak, allowing for less strain on public health resources.

Seeing as there are currently no vaccines or specific medication for coronavirus, these measures are the best we have to work with right now for mitigating that scary purple spike in the graph above.

So just be sure to stay calm, follow the Government of Canada’s recommended public health measures, and, as always, make sure to wash those hands whenever possible.

With coronavirus on the rise, Health Canada is reminding individuals who attend events and large gatherings to monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. And if you’re not feeling well, they recommend staying home at this time. Also, due to unexpected cancellations, please check the event you plan to attend is still taking place. Keep up with COVID-19 news here.