Mar 21, 2020 - Health

Q&A: How can I best help my community while social distancing?

Illustration of a virus cell surrounded by question marks

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Social distancing is a vital part of combatting the coronavirus, but many of us still have questions about how to keep our distance, help local businesses and take care of our basic needs all at the same time.

Here are the experts' answers to some of the most common questions about how to do social-distancing right.

My kids are driving me insane; can I please let them play with their friends?

  • Sorry, but preferably not. If you’re desperate, try picking one family you can trust and agree that your families will only hang out with each other. This will minimize possible exposure.
  • If you do allow your kids to be with friends, encourage them to pick activities that don’t require them to be in very close contact — bike rides, for example.

Can I go outside for a run, or to sit in a park?

  • Please do! Experts highly encourage spending time outside in open spaces. Just avoid groups and maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Consider wiping down benches or items that other people may have touched before you.

If family members or a small group of friends have been social distancing and are not sick, can I safely meet up with them?

  • It's risky. It only takes one infected person to start spreading it, and you can be contagious before you start feeling any symptoms.

How am I supposed to feed myself without encountering other people?

  • It is safe to go to the grocery store, but experts recommend that you limit how often you go, and try to go during off-peak hours — when stores first open in the morning, for example.
  • Keep 6 feet between yourself and other shoppers. Try to touch as few things as possible, and wipe down the shopping carts, baskets and credit card readers you do touch. Definitely try not to touch your face while you're shopping, and wash your hands once you get home.
  • If it's available in your area, experts say it's better to get your groceries delivered.
  • To be safe, clean packaging or bags, and be sure to wash fresh produce before consuming.

Is it OK to order delivery or takeout from local restaurants, to help them stay afloat?

  • Both are good options. Some may suggest buying a gift card to help them stay afloat, as well.
  • Tip generously! Servers, bartenders and other tipped workers will be taking a big economic hit as all their customers stay home.

Is it actually a good idea to offer to do errands for my elderly or immunocompromised neighbors?

  • Absolutely — especially if you're young and healthy. Coordinating grocery trips with neighbors can also help reduce the number of people going in to a store.
  • But do it safely. Pick up and drop off groceries or laundry on front porches or doorsteps, if possible, to avoid close contact. And of course, wash your hands.

How much food and many supplies should I be buying to avoid frequent trips to the store, but also avoiding depleting stores' supply?

  • Enough for two weeks. Even with the strictest restrictions in California and New York, grocery stores will remain open.

Am I ever going to be able to get more toilet paper?

  • Yes. Shelves are being restocked, major stores are changing delivery routes to get items faster and production is being slightly increased. There's no reason to buy more than you need for a few weeks.

The experts: Many thanks to the experts who helped answer these questions. They are:

  • Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Keri Althoff, associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University
  • Elizabeth Stuart, associate dean and professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Nancy Kass, deputy director for public health in the Johns Hopkins' Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Steve Silvestro, a pediatrician in Bethesda, Maryland

Got a question about coronavirus? Send it to [email protected], and we'll answer as many as we can each week.

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