It’s official: The World Health Organization has declared that the coronavirus is a global pandemic. Currently, the CDC recommends against gatherings of 50 or more people, and President Trump is urging against gatherings of no more than 10. As universities switch to online classes and travel bans go into effect, it makes sense if you’re feeling sort of powerless right now. So far, everyone has been told to take basic precautions against getting sick: wash your hands, avoid touching your face, clean your phone. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO General Director, shared in a tweet that another step in prevention is to avoid crowded places.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 11, 2020
The word “social distancing” has also begun to circulate rapidly—it’s a fancy term public health experts use for avoiding crowds in order to avoid catching or spreading the virus. However, it’s not totally clear what rules there are when it comes to spending time out of your house. You might have been told by your school to attend classes remotely, but can you still go to the gym? What about the grocery store? Should you cancel Friday night dinner with friends? The simplest answer is no you shouldn’t. To get to the bottom of just how cautious college students should be at this time, Her Campus spoke to several medical experts for their advice and best recommendations.
You can still go outside, as long as you avoid contact with others.
“Social distancing is not about staying inside. It is about avoiding large gatherings,” explains Dr. Richard Bruns, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Going for a walk or jog in the park is fine, and encouraged. Hanging out with a couple close friends inside is also fine, only if none of you are sick or has been to an area with an outbreak.” Essentially, you should try to find small ways to continue as normal, though Dr. Bruns does note that students should avoid large gatherings, especially ones that put you in close contact with people.
College students are at low risk for serious illness, but older or sicker people are not.
College students are at relatively low risk in terms of getting a serious case of COVID-19. Unless you have health problems, you may get the disease but are unlikely to enter critical condition or require hospitalization. “The main reason for canceling classes is to reduce or slow the spread to older or sicker people who may have a more adverse experience with the disease, and need more medical care,” says Vicki Bier, a risk analyst at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a background in pandemic preparedness. “This is a communal responsibility as members of society.”
You can be community-minded by choosing not to eat in restaurants and going to the gym if these mean close contact with lots of other people. According to CNN, states like Washington, New York, and Massachusetts, among others, have told bars and restaurants to close dine-in service, permitting only carryout and delivery in an effort to enforce social distancing. New Jersey, meanwhile has instituted a curfew that urges residents to stay home after 8 p.m.
We are in uncharted waters with the COVID-19 pandemic. Whatever measures you decide to take against getting sick, remember that everyone has a part to play in keeping each other healthy—and yes that means hand-washing frequently, which health experts cannot emphasize enough. You should know the drill by now: Wet your hands, lather them with soap, scrub for 20 seconds, and rinse off. This simple practice can help minimize negative impact.