Opinion: Let’s Stop Using the Phrase “Social Distancing”

Social Distancing

Social distancing has been coined as the most surefire way to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the American populace. What is this phrase used to refer to? It simply means that people should avoid physical human interaction as much as possible. Further, when it is essential to be in the vicinity of others, a 6 foot distance should be maintained between persons. This distance is to stop the spread of the virus from person to person. As it is an airborne virus, it can be passed from sneezing, coughing, or talking. Droplets from one person can travel up to 6 feet, hence the 6 foot rule to protect yourself.

In addition to this rule, the CDC is now recommending that everyone wear face masks when they must venture out. This is not a replacement for social distancing. Instead, its aim is to prevent the spread of disease from asymptomatic positive individuals who have gone out into public, not knowing they’re infected. It can also help remind people not to touch their face, another main cause of spread.

So why am I opposed to this phrase, “social distancing,” that is the known way to minimize the spread, and is the paramount recommendation by our nations leading authorities? It’s all in the rhetoric.

A New Phrase

The phrase “social distancing” implies a cut off of all human interaction. No engagement with others is permitted. No social activities may be held. No interaction with loved ones is safe. You must cut yourself off from the world and hide away until this virus is over.


What, we really mean is PHYSICAL distancing. We cannot be in close proximity to people (besides those in our same household). But, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be SOCIAL.

It’s a small change, but it could have a tremendous impact on our nation’s mental health. Telling people they can talk to no one, see no one, experience no human touch or interaction is TERRIFYING. We are, by our nature, social beings. We have loved ones and friends and neighbors whom we are used to interacting with day to day. Having all of this interaction shut off in an instant is scary. But if we tell ourselves we’re physically isolated, and that social interaction is still okay, it’s not as much of an unknown to navigate.

Now, I can’t take credit for this suggestion. Take a listen to the TED Talk “How to be your best self in times of crisis” by Susan David. It has some great tips to help navigate these times!

So, what can we do? What are we allowed to do? How do we maintain socialization in a time of physical distancing? Here are some suggestions.

What to Do

  • Send an email to that friend you’ve been meaning to get back in touch with for weeks, months, or even years
  • Call your extended family members you don’t connect with as much
  • Have a virtual family dinner over zoom
  • Have a virtual family game night over zoom
  • Get in the habit of calling your parents, your siblings, whoever you’re close to every day
  • Make a plan of when you are going to talk to your loved ones each week. Maybe pair these calls with your daily walk outside, talking to a different friend each day
  • Listen to the podcasts, audio books, songs, etc. that you’ve been meaning to listen to but haven’t gotten a chance to in your busy life
  • Write a handwritten note to that loved one who you know loves getting letters in the mailbox (Don’t lick the envelope)
  • Set up virtual play dates for your kids
  • Keep your book club, knitting club, whatever activity you were a part of going- you’d be surprised about how many things can be adapted to virtual use

How we speak matters. Rhetoric matters. Think about how you are speaking to others, and how they are speaking to you. Maybe suggest “physical distancing” as an alternative and offer some of the above suggestions for staying in touch.

We could leave this pandemic with much closer relationships than we entered.

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