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How Social Distancing Helps to Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus

April 3, 2020

And how you can still safely stay in touch with friends, family and neighbors

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you know that, at least initially, Washington has been one of the states most affected by the virus that causes COVID-19. It has also struck here at Emerald Heights. As we learn more about the virus, we’re also learning more about steps we can take to prevent it from further spreading.

One of those steps, which health officials at all levels of government are asking the general public to take, is social distancing. Even though the term “social distancing” is used, a better way to think of it is “physical distancing.” The point is to avoid unnecessary physical contact with others. That means:

  • Canceling social events and outings
  • Staying home as much as possible
  • Keeping a distance of at least six feet from other people when out in public

It doesn’t mean isolating ourselves. We can still maintain our relationships with the people we care about. We just have to find ways that don’t involve close personal physical interactions.

If you think about it, social distancing is basically using common sense. The virus is spread from person to person. It is mostly through tiny droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes, but also through direct contact (such as shaking hands with or hugging a person who is infected). Some people who have the coronavirus don’t show any symptoms, so you may not be able to tell if someone is infected just by looking at them. And, it can take up to 14 days for infected people to begin showing symptoms. In light of that, it’s just smart to keep a safe distance from others.

Note that while it is possible to become infected by touching a surface that is contaminated with the virus, the rate of transmission in that way appears to be considerably lower than through other forms of contact.

Why social distancing is especially important now

Naturally, the earlier we can get an outbreak of the coronavirus under control, the better. Researchers continue to learn more about this virus. But, we still don’t know for sure whether a person who’s had it can be reinfected, or whether warmer temperatures will help slow the spread of the virus.

What we do know is that hospitals and health systems are ramping up preparations to care for people who become seriously ill with COVID-19, but right now, there are limits to how much they can handle. Hospitals have only a certain number of rooms (and far fewer ICU rooms), and equipment, such as respirators and personal protective equipment (e.g., face masks), is limited.

State and federal agencies are working to increase facility space, equipment and supplies. They are also working to make more tests available so that more people can be tested and self-quarantine if they test positive for the virus.

Another concern is having enough healthcare professionals to provide care for those who get sick. A number of doctors and others who have been on the frontlines caring for patients with COVID-19 have themselves become seriously ill. Although it’s unknown at this time why the virus seems to be hitting some healthcare practitioners especially hard, repeated exposure could be the reason.

Until scientists have a more thorough understanding of this new coronavirus, until more people can be tested, and until our hospitals can become better prepared to care for those who become severely ill, the best way we can all do our part to fight it is through social distancing.

By slowing the spread of the coronavirus, social distancing can help prevent a situation in which there are more seriously ill patients than our hospitals can care for. We not only protect our own health but also the health of everyone around us when we practice social distancing.

What Emerald Heights is doing to guard against COVID-19

Older adults (ages 65 and up) and people with chronic health conditions (such as heart disease, respiratory diseases and diabetes) seem to be at greater risk for becoming seriously ill if infected with the coronavirus.

At Emerald Heights, we are working diligently to protect the health, safety and well-being of residents and staff. We’ve implemented a range of preventive measures, including:

  • Canceling upcoming social events
  • Restricting visitors to the community
  • Suspending seated dining in our restaurants (meals are still available for take-out and delivery)
  • Routinely disinfecting common areas and frequently touched surfaces
  • Engaging resident volunteers to assist with sanitation duties and meal delivery
  • Having administrative staff take rotating shifts at the main entry to screen staff, residents and necessary visitors; including taking temperatures
  • Encouraging everyone to use the hand sanitizer stations installed near entrances and in other common areas
  • Temporarily discontinuing housekeeping for residents in our independent living community
  • Limiting maintenance to critical tasks only to reduce interactions between staff and residents

Residents at Emerald Heights are helping, too

DeWayne Sennett, who just moved to Emerald Heights in January, is one of dozens of residents who are providing their time and energy to help keep our community as clean and safe as possible.

These volunteers work in shifts to wipe down handrails, elevator buttons, and other frequently touched surfaces with a bleach solution or to deliver meals to their neighbors from the restaurants. Other volunteers put their sewing skills to good use. They are making face masks for the medical staff in our assisted living and skilled nursing areas, and for other residents who want them.

DeWayne had been volunteering at the hospital until the coronavirus restrictions were put in place. Wanting to have another opportunity to give back to his community, he was quick to answer the call for help in keeping the virus at bay. As a bonus, he’s getting to meet more of his new neighbors — from a safe distance!

He also says he feels safer at Emerald Heights than he would have if he hadn’t moved, noting that the staff has been “absolutely fantastic” and very proactive in addressing the coronavirus situation — even before the local health agencies instituted guidelines.

“They’re making sure every day that you’re fine,” DeWayne said. “You’ve got to push a button every morning to say you’re fine, or they will call you. If you don’t respond, they’ll send someone to check on you. It’s one of the primary reasons I moved here.”

“I’m very happy that I’m here at this time. I would be very lonely in the house by myself, with nobody checking up on me. This is the right place for me.”

The greater community is pitching in as well

We are fortunate (and thankful!) to have received donations of protective gear for our nursing care staff from various local organizations:

  • Hundreds of protective coveralls from the Sunshine Youth Cultural and Education Development Association, a nonprofit volunteer organization operated by adults and young people
  • 1,000 face masks, 1,000 protective goggles and 250 coveralls from the Sea Moms Club
  • 500 face masks from the grassroots initiative called 500 Masks for HK

Remember, social distancing doesn’t mean you have to be alone

We encourage you to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. At the same time, we also encourage you to stay connected with your friends, family and others you care about. Those relationships are important to your mental, emotional and physical health.

Thanks to technology, you have many choices for keeping in touch:

  • Social media, including Facebook and other social networking platforms
  • Video chats, via FaceTime (for Apple devices), Duo (for Android devices), Skype or another app
  • Phone calls, whether by landline or cell phone
    Tip: Messaging services, such as WhatsApp, make it easy to talk with people in far-off places at no extra cost.
  • Text messages and instant messaging, if you want to have a digital “conversation” without actually having to talk
  • Email, which makes it easy to share photos and other digital files

Plus, there’s always the option of sending cards and letters to let other people know how you’re doing and that you’re thinking about them. You could even get creative and make your own greeting cards!

And, you can still stay active!

Although the fitness center at Emerald Heights is closed for now, there are ways to keep moving and keep in shape. For one thing, since the weather is getting nicer, you can get outside and walk or take a bike ride. Our walking and biking trails have gorgeous views of the Olympic Mountains. So why not get a breath of fresh air and enjoy them? If you go with friends and neighbors, just be sure to keep the recommended distance of six feet between you as you walk.

If you prefer to stay indoors, you can still go for a walk. There’s plenty of room in our hallways and stairwells to stretch your legs and keep a safe distance from others who might be doing likewise.

We also have Fitness Friday classes you can view on channel 370 on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. And, we’re developing other videos for YouTube that can be viewed anytime. So, you can participate in activities such as seated stretching, chair yoga, basic strengthening routines, and even cardio, bounce and dance classes while you’re at home.

Just so you know, our fitness program coordinator, Ryan Schuhler, is available if you want to reach out to him. He can help if you have questions or you’re not sure whether you’re doing something the right way. Just keep in mind that he, like the rest of us, has to follow the social distancing guidelines.

Ryan also has a great suggestion for boosting your emotional health and helping others at the same time:

“If you’re used to having fitness time each day as part of your routine, why not also get in the habit of checking in with friends and family members every day so you can maintain your social interactions? Pick a time, say 11:00 every morning, and call a different person each day, just to say hello and see how they’re doing. You can catch up with relatives who live in other states or former classmates you haven’t talked to in a while. Afterward, you can go for a walk or take a virtual class and feel twice as good.”

Want to know more about the coronavirus and COVID-19?

Emerald Heights is committed to providing the most current information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Caption for photo(s) of DeWayne Sennett:

DeWayne Sennett is one of the many resident volunteers at Emerald Heights. He helps every day by disinfecting common areas, delivering meals and sewing masks.