Learn Why the World Health Organization Is Now Saying “Physical Distancing” Instead of “Social Distancing”

Woman Sitting on Couch With Tablet in Hand

Stock Photos from fizkes/Shutterstock

The phrase “social distancing” might be all that you hear about right now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a March 20, 2020 press briefing by the World Health Organization (WHO), the expression was rarely uttered—and there’s a good reason for it. The WHO is now suggesting that people use the phrase “physical distancing” to emphasize the need to physically—but not socially—separate themselves from others.

“We're changing to say physical distance and that's on purpose because we want people to still remain connected,” Dr. Maria Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said in the briefing. “So find ways to do that, find ways through the internet and through different social media to remain connected because your mental health going through this is just as important as your physical health.”

As we’ve seen over the past month, people are amazing at finding creative ways to stay socially connected while they remain in their homes. Artists are hosting online drawing challenges, celebrities are having storytime, and world-famous musicians are holding intimate concerts in their living rooms. And with many museums—and even the national parks—online, there are plenty of resources to help us stay engaged, entertained, and not go too stir crazy.

So, when you do venture outdoors, how far should you physically distance yourself from other people? The guidelines vary based on your country, but in general, you should place about six feet of space between yourself and another person. This is in addition to the other coronavirus prevention recommendations that include not touching your face and also making sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds—or roughly the length of choruses from these hit pop songs.

h/t: [IFL Science!]

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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