Coronavirus Outbreak: Here's why you should practice 'social distancing'

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has now spread around the world, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared a pandemic.

The novel coronavirus is transmitted by droplets from coughs and sneezes, so the best way to prevent getting it is by practicing "social distancing."

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What is social distancing?

Dr. Alook Patel is part of the ABC7 team of novel coronavirus experts.

"Social distancing is the term we're using right now that is essentially everyone doing their best to stay away from large crowds, while we are trying to reduce the spread of the disease coronavirus," said Dr. Patel.

Imagine a crowded room full of people. Everyone in the room is healthy, except one person. They are infected with the coronavirus, but don't know it.

They shake hands with half the people in the room.

Let's say half of those people are infected.

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Over the next five days, those people go on with their lives, some develop what seems like a cold, others have no idea they are sick, but they spread the coronavirus along the way -- infecting friends, family, and strangers without even knowing it.

That's what health experts call an "outbreak." Social distancing keeps the number of people in that crowded room from ever being infected, by, well, not being crowded.

"Social distancing is almost like everyone's own responsibility. It's the role they play in protecting their community and slowing the spread of coronavirus," said Dr. Patel.

Social distancing is not the same as self-quarantine or isolation -- that's when public health officials order you to stay away from other people because you are infected.

Social distancing means thinking about the impact "you" might have on others if you do get the coronavirus and you don't even know it.

"People are going to really think about where they are going, how many people are going to be there, their distance from someone else," said Dr. Patel.

The CDC recommends keeping 6 to 10 feet away from other people.

"If you are on an airplane, or a bus - for example - are you going to choose a seat that's closer to a group of people? Or are you going to try to keep a little bit distant?" said Dr. Patel.

He added, "If you, for example, go to dinner... are you going to try and go to a table that's in the corner, or are you going to go up to the bar and sit up next to a bunch of people?"

"You know if you wanted to go to the gym, for example, are you going to try and go when there is a lot of people because that's when it is convenient? Or, maybe you're going to try to switch it up and go at a less busy hour and keep your distance from someone?" said Dr. Patel.

He added: "So this is something that people are going to go through in their minds for every activity they have, whether it be work, play, and meet-ups... whatever it may be."

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