Social distancing from a global perspective

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    REUTERS PHOTO
    REUTERS PHOTO

    LAST Friday, March 13, Metro Manila was placed on ‘Community Quarantine’ amid the COVID-19 outbreak as ordered by President Duterte during a televised press conference which took effect at midnight yesterday.

    This pronouncement prompted people to rush to supermarkets, pharmacies and malls to grab essentials which made these places crowded. On that same day, people began cramming in bus terminals, rushing their way out of Metro Manila prior to the lockdown.

    Guidelines were set on, among others, the quarantine status of LGUs in NCR, ban on domestic travel to and from the Metro, ban on congregations, and the strict practice of social distancing in public places and transport.

    “The value of social distancing is in keeping people who don’t know if they are infected from infecting those who are most at risk,” says Dr. Jumel Bornilla, medical director of Immunoboosters – The Medical Clinic and International Travelers Medical Center. “It’s not about you avoiding infection, it’s about keeping you from unknowingly infecting others.”

    “Social distancing is not about being scared; or being a germaphobe, wimp or panicky. It is about vulnerable people not getting fatally infected. If you are not tough or brave or savvy or cool by ignoring best practices, then you are just making things worse.”

    DR. JUMEL BORNILLA
    DR. JUMEL BORNILLA

    “Initially epidemiologists have emphasized that the virus is spread mainly by people who are already showing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty of breathing. If that’s true, it’s good news, since people who are obviously ill can be identified and isolated, making it easier to control an outbreak,” Dr. Bornilla continued.

    But it appears that a Massachusetts coronavirus cluster with at least 82 cases was started by people who were not yet manifesting symptoms, and more than half a dozen studies have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection (excerpts from CNN).

    “The issue here is, most of these people are young professionals and students, most likely with the demographic of age 20 and above. As a doctor, I am trying to understand people roughly the age of 20 who don’t have significant symptoms but just occasional sniffles and colds – Are they a group that are potentially asymptomatic and spreading the virus, bringing them close to their loved ones when they scampered out of the Metro?

    “Until we really understand how many people are asymptomatic and asymptomatically passing the virus on, we think it’s better for the public at large to know the risk. The severely infected may be low, but they could be potentially and exponentially spreading the virus to others. That’s why it’s a great personal responsibility to prevent that spread by just staying away from each other.

    Dr. Bornilla resonates the idea of calling it ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing.’

    “If we need to find ways to reduce social distancing in the midst of all this, then by all means, let’s exhaust those ways,” he said.

    “With the advances in technology, teaching the elderly people in one’s family or a friend on how to Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp call — if they don’t know how to already — would probably be a good thing,” explained Dr. Bornilla who, coincidentally, is launching today Telemedicine Philippines, a modern technology innovation of doctors caring for patients remotely by using HIPAA-compliant video conferencing tools.

    An iPad as a gadget can be easier, since if it’s plugged in, one could ring the elderly and all he’d have to do is answer the call.

    An app which is called Zoom is now being used to facilitate a conference call. Teaching the elderly how to navigate such will definitely make a difference, it’s similarly to be able to hang out in each other’s kitchens.

    It’s time to truly practice social distancing. You may feel bad initially, but your choices could have significant impacts on others. “It’s hard to imagine a crushing finality when you read the death notice of a loved one and at this time with no wakes, family-only funerals etc. It’s eerie and painful,” Dr. Bornilla said.

    “Social distancing means physical distance but hopefully not emotional isolation, a time to call on emotional connection of our family, friends and community right now.

    “A ‘pawsitive’ effect of all this social distancing is that it doesn’t include dogs (who will not get infected as declared by WHO). “Our paw companions will be experiencing the most ‘humans-at-home’ time in their lives,” added Dr. Bornilla who is a passionate dog lover.

    “And by the way, social distancing means we should be at least six (6) feet away from each other. No less. Please!” Dr. Bornilla concluded.