Social distancing

Social distancing has been implemented as a way to combat the spread of coronavirus, which is enforced by stay-at-home orders and the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses across the country.

However, according to Penn State biology professor Matthew Ferrari, Americans need to practice more physical distancing to combat the coronavirus to further reduce the potential transfer to others.

“We need to minimize the number of people interacting with public surfaces,” Ferrari said. “[Social distancing] is a combination of staying away from other people physically, as well as breaking the transmission from surface to hand to mouth.”

If people need to leave the house for essential reasons, good hand and face hygiene should be practiced.

Student Megan Mayer defines social distancing as “refraining from any unnecessary physical contact” from others.

“And when I do go out, I remain at a distance from those around me,” Mayer (sophomore-kinesiology) said.

Associate professor of biology Pia Abel zur Wiesch stressed the importance of all individuals, especially young adults and children, avoiding sickness.

In addition to the virus endangering more people, it also burdens the healthcare system, according to Wiesch, who is also the early career chair in systems pharmacology of the Huck Institute of Life Sciences.

“I think the risks for younger people have not been communicated well enough,” Wiesch said. “In addition, I think that we all could think a little about which kinds of jobs we appreciate. It has been discussed internationally that those people we all depend on now are not paid very well, on average.”

Pennsylvanians should act as if they are already infected with the coronavirus, Ferrari said. If residents take drastic preventative measures, the virus is more likely to be contained.

“Be thoughtful, be efficient as possible and minimize trips [to the grocery store],” Ferrari said. “Consider societal costs of the decisions we make.”

Additionally, Wiesch said people should think about societal disruption in families and communities.

There are many cases in which both parents become ill and struggle to find others to care for their children if they aren’t already infected with the virus, according to Wiesch.

“[My husband, daughter and I] are new residents of State College,” Wiesch said. “My daughter attended daycare in the U.S. for one month, and she doesn’t speak English. This is something that gives me sleepless nights — the probability that both of us get sick.”

It is not likely that everyone will be infected, but the likelihood that both parents in a household get sick are not negligible, she said.

Therefore, it is not only deaths that are terrible in a pandemic, according to Wiesch. A large part of health crises is that there are other ramifications, which is something not everyone understands yet.

Due to the severity and uncertainty of the coronavirus situation, a lockdown is necessary for people’s health and safety, Ferrari said. Unlike others, he doesn’t think a lockdown would be too severe of a measure to protect Americans.

Some say a lockdown is too drastic. However, Mayer said if everyone does their part, the world will be a healthier and safer place.

“I've been trying to maintain a positive outlook and practice social distancing in hopes of this pandemic coming to an end sooner,” Mayer said.


One consequence of the virus’s timeline is that people are seeing symptoms 10 to 15 days after they were initially affected — allowing individuals to infect others during the time they are unaware of their condition, according to Ferrari.

Therefore, Americans are seeing this health crisis as a rerun, he said. The lag in people’s knowledge of when they are affected could be mitigated with a shutdown of the country.

“We don’t want to look back and think we weren’t stringent enough,” Ferrari said. “Or maybe we will figure out we were good enough [in countering the virus] and we can start to relax.”

By large, the Penn State community is practicing social distancing.

However, Ferrari said that although people need to socially distance, it is still difficult.

For Mayer, the lack of access to gyms, restaurants, stores and her friend’s company has been the most challenging. She only leaves the house for grocery shopping, exercise and work.

While at work, she washes her hands frequently and avoids contact with her co-workers, she said.

With restrictions in place, Ferrari said there are tactics to be put in action to cope during this restraint period.

“We will need to use adaptive strategies to survive this virus,” Ferrari said. “Some of us have more privilege and ability to distance ourselves. We have the capacity to work at home and minimize interactions because we don’t have to seek healthcare.”

He said people need to stay inside to help those who are deemed essential workers.

“For each one of us who can distance ourselves, we need to in order to ease the burden for those who can’t,” Ferrari said.

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