Social distancing key to keeping yourself and others safe

Emory Report | March 18, 2020

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As the Emory community deals with the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19, students, faculty and staff are sharing the disappointment of transitioning to remote learning. If you are already missing Emory, know the community is also missing you. 

At the same time, students are coming together to support each other and find creative ways to stay connected, while encouraging everyone to do their part to help slow the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing.

“Although many students aren't in the most vulnerable categories, we become vectors for anyone who we interact with that could possibly be in those categories,” says Emory College sophomore Stephanie Zhang. “Rather than just thinking about how this virus directly affects us, we have to think about the way members in our community could be impacted in significantly more severe ways.” 

Here are four ways students can help positively impact the situation.

1. Return home 

At this time, it is safest for students to return home. Emory asks that students leave campus as soon as possible in advance of the 5 p.m. March 22 deadline to move out of residence halls. To help, Emory can pack and ship or store your belongings, if needed. Learn more about Atlanta campus move-out here and Oxford campus move-out here.  

“We need to choose compassion and not endanger ourselves and other people,” says Adesola Thomas, a senior in Emory College of Arts and Sciences. “Emory did not give us an extra week of spring break so that we would amass, they gave us this time so that we could find ways to be safe and ostensibly be elsewhere. Go home if you can.”

2. Change formats for socializing

Cancel or postpone all gatherings on campus or off campus, or move them online. Emory is following the CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can help by avoiding events and gatherings in large groups, and maintaining a distance of approximately 6 feet from other people whenever possible. 

“While these are daunting and uncertain times, I’ve seen that the most useful thing I can do is to virtually reach out to the people I love and avoid being a potential vector to someone who is more at-risk than I am,” says Thomas.

Students can still find ways to connect even when not together on campus, notes Bria Jarrell, an Emory College graduate who is now a first-year MPH student in Rollins School of Public Health.

“Just because we can’t physically be together doesn’t mean we can’t have quality time,” Jarrell says. “Host streaming parties, set up group chats, share memes, play video games together. We are lucky to be in an age where we have so much technology and many of us can still get together virtually.”

3. Practice – and encourage – social distancing 

The term “social distancing” is more than just a buzz phrase in conjunction with the COVID-19 outbreak. It is an active practice that can help slow the virus’ spread and keep people of all ages safer and healthier. 

“These guidelines have been implemented for the greater good of the community,” says Jarrell. “With more research showing that asymptomatic carriers do exist, social distancing is our best bet to make sure we can keep as many people safe as possible and reduce the spread.” 

Remember that social distancing is not only about whether you may get sick. It’s about keeping the most vulnerable people in your life in mind with every decision you make. Everyone has the potential to inadvertently harm friends, classmates, loved ones and people who cannot weather this virus.

“I don’t think people my age (22) are scared yet because there have been so many stories that young people are not at risk,” says Payton Rigert, also a first-year MPH student at Rollins. “I think this has made people think they are invincible, but the fact is that social distancing is not just for you. One person choosing to stay home can help keep the virus from spreading.”

“We have to be considerate of the fact that disability and poor health are not always visible,” Jarrell adds. “You cannot simply look at someone and know who is high-risk and who is not. Anyone you come into contact with, even young friends, can fall into an at-risk group. There is so much gray area with COVID-19, we have to play it safe.” 

4. Be patient 

One hallmark of students at Emory is a commitment to pursuing social justice and social responsibility; we are in the midst of a prime opportunity to exhibit that by our actions in the coming days. 

Circumstances are changing rapidly as the situation evolves, and many people are working hard to adapt as quickly as possible. This is truly an exceptional situation, and everyone must play his or her part in the response – especially students, whose generation has been identified as critical in helping stop the spread of COVID-19.

As Thomas says, “This can be frustrating and unsettling, but know that you aren't alone in those feelings. Take this time to communicate virtually with your friends and family, rest, watch TV, go for walks, finish your thesis, donate to the Student Hardship Fund if you have the means. Be compassionate to other people and avoid spreading misinformation and unnecessary fear. This moment isn't the finish line.” 

Stay informed, and take whatever measures are necessary to keep yourself and others safe. The Emory community will get through this unprecedented time together.