Your Top Questions About Social Distancing Answered

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Key Takeaways

  • The recommendations for social distancing are evolving as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but in most states, there are restrictions in place and requirements for being in public (such as wearing face masks and being 6 feet from other people).
  • The activities you normally do with your kids, such as visiting family or having playdates, will likely need to go "virtual"—for example, Skyping with grandparents and encouraging your teen to connect with their friends online.
  • It's not clear how long social distancing guidelines will be in place. For now, you should continue to avoid traveling, try to limit your outings to only essentials (such as picking up groceries), and practice proper mask-wearing and hand hygiene.

By now, you have probably heard that to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, that you need to practice social distancing. But if you're still unsure of what that exactly means, we have some answers for you.

In general, social distancing means changing your behavior to help stop the spread of viruses and infections like the coronavirus. These behavior changes often mean suspending social interactions, closing schools, and working from home if possible. It also means limiting your contact with the general public and extended family and only venturing out if it's absolutely necessary—like picking up groceries and medications or visiting the doctor.

In March 2020, the White House released guidelines regarding social distancing, including urging all Americans to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more people and to keep a distance of at least six feet between each person. The guidelines also suggest that families avoid dining in restaurants and bars, postpone discretionary travel, and refrain from going to shopping malls, nursing homes, play centers, and more.

Some states have taken these guidelines a step further, limiting restaurants to takeout only, postponing all elective surgeries, and closing all non-essential businesses. Keep in mind that the situation in the United States is evolving rapidly and advice may change as new information comes to light. In the meantime, to help you make sense of social distancing, here is an overview of the most frequently asked questions.

Can My Kids Visit Grandma and Grandpa?

Although anyone is at risk for serious complications and even death from the coronavirus, most current numbers indicate that the virus is particularly dangerous for anyone over the age of 60. Consequently, the federal government is asking family members to stay away from nursing homes, retirement centers, and long-term care facilities unless they are going to provide critical help.

Additionally, many state leaders are advising that instead of visiting with older people or grandparents, that people call or use Skype or FaceTime to check on them. Even if you think your family is healthy, there is a risk of being asymptomatic and passing on the illness without even knowing it.

For instance, a preliminary study in the journal of Pediatrics found that 13% of kids with confirmed cases of COVID-19 did not show any symptoms. Given that kids could potentially spread the illness to unsuspecting grandparents, most health officials are recommending virtual visits for now. Even adults who have to shop for older people may want to leave the items on their doorstep instead of entering their home.

Are Playdates OK?

With schools closed and countless parents working from home, playdates seem like an obvious solution for parents looking to occupy their kids and help them burn off a little steam. Unfortunately, playdates can defeat the purpose of social distancing. A child can appear healthy and still be carrying the coronavirus.

What's more, even if you choose just one friend or relative to have over, you are creating new links between people and increasing the likelihood of transmitting the disease or other viruses and illnesses.

In other words, your family is now exposed to everyone that other child has been exposed to and you have just widened your circle of exposure. Consequently, most health experts are recommending against playdates, sleepovers, birthday parties, and other gatherings for kids. Instead, encourage them to visit with friends virtually and limit play to siblings.

What Should I Do About Daycare?

Daycare is a difficult situation for state and national authorities to address because many workers like first responders, healthcare workers, and grocery store employees won't have childcare without daycare centers. But a recent commentary in the journal Pediatrics acknowledges that there is a significant risk of spreading the coronavirus in daycares.

If you are a parent that relies on daycare and you have no other childcare options, look for centers with low numbers of children and excellent hygiene practices. Find a center that thoroughly cleans everything including toys and surfaces with a bleach solution or Clorox disinfecting wipes, especially since early evidence printed in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for as long as 72 hours.

You also should avoid sending your children to daycare if they are sick or running a fever, and be sure they get their annual flu shot. Although the flu shot does not protect them from the coronavirus, it will add a layer of protection against other illnesses often transmitted at daycare centers.

Can We Go to the Playground?

With the weather warming up, it is natural for parents to consider playgrounds as an option for entertaining younger kids. But if the playground is crowded, you might want to skip it.

Even though kids are outside, they still tend to play within close proximity of one another and can spread germs easily, especially if they are coughing while waiting in line for the slide. Many municipalities throughout the country have closed playgrounds for these reasons.

Additionally, even though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that most transmission is from person to person, it is still possible that droplets will remain on the surfaces of playground equipment. So, if you take your children to the playground, have them wash their hands thoroughly before and after they play. You may even want to take some Clorox wipes or a spray bottle of diluted bleach with you for the equipment.

Some health experts even recommend changing clothes and bathing after returning from an afternoon at the playground, just to be safe. Meanwhile, indoor play places, trampoline parks, and amusement parks are not a good idea until social distancing measures have been lifted.

Can My Kids Play Outside With Other Kids?

Just like playdates, there is a great risk with allowing kids to play with one another—even outside. Most kids like to play games like tag, basketball, or dodgeball, which require them to be in close proximity of one another.

Additionally, if they are touching toys like balls or bats, they are leaving their germs on the equipment. Even if they are playing tag, they are touching one another and violating the guidelines for six feet of separation.

Given that kids can carry the coronavirus without showing any symptoms and typically do not play outdoor games where they are spaced apart, it is probably not a good idea for kids to be playing with anyone other than their siblings at this point.

Remember, even if you have them wash their hands before and after, they are likely still touching their faces and rubbing their eyes. And it is not uncommon for kids to spray a little saliva when they are excited and playing. So, as much as they want to have fun with their friends, now is probably not the time for that to happen.

Can I Still Breastfeed?

Most doctors encourage nursing moms to continue breastfeeding their infants even though social distancing recommendations suggest keeping a six foot distance between one another. Not only is breastmilk the best source of nutrition for babies, but it also provides protection against a number of illnesses.

There are still many unknowns about COVID-19. So it is important that you practice exceptional hygiene, including washing your hands before touching the baby or anything that belongs to the baby.

If you do develop the coronavirus or you are under investigation for the virus, you should contact your healthcare provider as well as your child's pediatrician to determine if you should continue breastfeeding. Initial studies have shown that the coronavirus is undetected in breast milk, but there are still many unknowns about this virus. Even the CDC has no formal recommendation regarding breastfeeding. This is a decision you should make with your healthcare team.

Is It Safe to Get Take-Out?

Most health experts agree that the issue with food from restaurants and other establishments isn't the food itself, but with where the food is eaten. For this reason, dining in—even if the tables are outside or spaced far apart—is generally not a good idea. With this in mind, restaurants throughout the country have closed their dining rooms.

Instead, opt for take-out as long as the lines aren't crowded or terribly long. Other options include using a drive-through or having food delivered. Keep in mind that if you use food delivery, you are adding one additional person to your circle of exposure.

Once you get the food home, wash your hands and transfer food from the take-out containers to your own dishes. Dispose of the containers. Then, wash your hands again before eating. It's also important not to share eating utensils, plates, or cups and to wash your hands again after eating.

What Kind of Travel Is Safe?

Right now, the CDC is suggesting that families postpone all discretionary travel. Flying on airplanes makes it extremely difficult to maintain six feet of separation among passengers. But even traveling by car is not recommended considering the number of people you will interact with along the way. What's more, staying in a new location that may not be as clean as your home requires you to take extra measures to clean and disinfect all surfaces.

The whole idea of social distancing is that you remain in your home in order to keep your family's germs to yourself as well as to limit your exposure to other people's germs. You cannot do that if you are traveling across the country. Additionally, a number of amusement parks and beaches have closed; even Disney World closed. So there may not be many options for you once you reach your destination.

How Long Will Social Distancing Last?

Right now, the length of time is a big unknown. But most government officials are recommending that you plan for a month of hunkering down while others say that people may need to isolate themselves much longer. It really depends on how well the country, as well as other countries, do at flattening the curve.

Remember, we are in uncharted territory with no way to treat the coronavirus except through prevention. If people disregard the guidelines for social distancing and rationalize making exceptions, the longer the country will need to practice social distancing efforts.

What This Means For You

While it can seem overwhelming to be stuck in your home for two weeks to a month or more, it is important to remember that this is only a temporary inconvenience. If everyone does their part and stays home, the spread of the virus will slow down. This will, in turn, keep our healthcare systems from being overrun and protect the lives of people we may never meet.

In the meantime though, there are things you can do—the key is to avoid crowds of people and to maintain at least six feet of separation.

  • Go for a walk, take a hike, or ride your bike.
  • Institute a family game night, read together, or learn how to cook something new.
  • Skype, text, call, or FaceTime friends and relatives.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dong Y, Mo X, Hu Y, et al. Epidemiological characteristics of 2143 pediatric patients with 2019 coronavirus disease in ChinaPediatrics. 2020; doi:10.1542/peds.2020-0702

  2. Cruz A, Zeichner S. COVID-19 in children: initial characterization of the pediatric diseasePediatrics. 2020; doi:10.1542/peds.2020-0834

  3. Van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med. 2020. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.