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Forget hugs and handshakes. Now, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, staying the **** away from people is the way to show you care. Here's what you need to know about social distancing.

You are probably sick by now — if not with COVID-19, of the constant reminders to perform hand hygiene, avoid touching your face, and stay home if you develop symptoms. Repetitive though constant talk of these steps may be, they're essential weapons on the frontline of the battle against the novel coronavirus. 

Now, with global cases constantly rising, it's clear that we can't just wait for a vaccine as we frantically clear the stores out of toilet paper, go to work with respiratory symptoms, or flood Twitter with indignant comments about Chinese people eating bats. We can't just worry about whether we or our families will be infected. 

To slow the spread of COVID-19, we've all got to work together as a community. Normally, we tend to show we care with handshakes, hugs, and kisses, but now, social distancing's all the rage. Right now, it's the most effective way of doing our bit to reduce the risk that healthcare systems across the world will be so overwhelmed with new COVID-19 cases that they won't be able to cope. 

COVID-19 is going to continue to spread anyway, but without protective measures in place, it will do so at an alarmingly faster rate. The success of protective measures entirely depends on people like you and me. We can "flatten the curve" and try to make sure our healthcare systems remain equipped to care for the most vulnerable people, or we can carry on as usual and allow the virus to spread like wildfire.

So, here's what you should consider adding onto your preexisting "wash your hands, don't touch your face" routine to help protect not just yourself, but everyone else, too. Your community depends on you, just like you depend on your community. 

1. Keep your distance

The World Health Organization is currently recommending that you keep at least one meter (three feet) of distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Since you never know when someone's going to start coughing or sneezing, and because COVID-19 has an incubation period of somewhere between a day and two weeks, however, this may be a good preventative step to take across the board. 

Observing a one-meter distance from the people around you obviously also means no physical contact:

  • Don't shake hands. 
  • Don't hug or kiss. 
  • Someone in the elevator? Wait for the next one. 
  • To greet someone, bow, wave, or touch feet instead — or just say "hi", for that matter. 
Avoid crowded places — like concerts, shopping malls, and so on — unless you have a good reason to be there, especially if you are more vulnerable because you have a chronic illness or are immunocompromised. If you can work from home, consider doing that, as well. 

2. Prepare yourself and your family for COVID-19

You don't need to panic to prepare. The CDC is currently recommending that all US residents prepare themselves for the possibility that they get sick with COVID-19, or their immediate communities are seriously impacted by the outbreak:

  • Know where you can get accurate information on the spread of the novel coronavirus in your area, and keep yourself up to date. 
  • If you are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 or someone else in your family is — this includes people of all ages with chronic heart, lung, kidney, or liver diseases, pregnant and newly postpartum women, and anyone else who is immunocompromised — seek additional information on how to protect yourself. This may include staying home from work or school.
  • Know the symptoms; fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Follow the instructions your healthcare system is giving your community (more on this in a bit). 
  • If you have children, make a plan in case they get sick or the schools in your area close. If you work outside the home, make preparations to adapt if you can't go to work. Make sure you have contact details for everyone important to you ready. This should include your family doctor. 
  • Prep. Seriously. The CDC is advising people to stock up on two weeks' worth of essentials, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, food, and hygiene products. 

3. What to do if you get sick and suspect COVID-19

The World Health Organization is currently advising people to stay home if they're not feeling well, even if it's just a runny nose and a bit of a headache. Don't go out unless it's absolutely essential (even people with runny noses need to eat, after all, and not everyone will have prepared), and keep your distance from other household members as well. 

There's no need to rush to the doctor unless you also have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath — and by doing it anyway, you're robbing someone who needs medical attention more urgently of the chance to get it in a timely manner. 

If you do develop a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, don't just show up at the doctor's office or the Emergency Room. Call ahead. Ask what to do. Let the person on the other end of the line know if you've recently traveled or been in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. This will allow your healthcare system to work most efficiently, and you to get the care you need without risking others' wellbeing. 

The bottom line

COVID-19 is here. We might be counting on our healthcare systems to keep serving their communities, but even those of us who aren't medical professionals can do our bit to save lives — so if you haven't already started, make some changes now.

Be a responsible member of the community by performing hand hygiene frequently and keeping your hands off your face, staying home if you develop symptoms, calling in ahead of time if you need to seek medical care, and keeping a close eye on instructions for your area.

We might not be able to stop this thing, but together, we can at least slow it down substantially.