Technology can make social distancing easier

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada

  • Social distancing practices best method for curbing spread of any viral infection
  • Social distancing minimises contact between you and another person, to hopefully prevent or slow transmission
  • Technological advancement has made virtual social interaction more convenient

One sure prescribed method of curbing the spread of any viral infection like the coronavirus Covid-19, is the adoption of social distancing practices where people are asked to avoid large gatherings of people in public places or even close bodily contact. However, can there be some unintended consequences especially for small tight-knit type society that was built on social interaction like Grenada and other small island nations?

By nature, social distancing goes against our natural inclination to connect with individuals, therefore, this concept may seem farfetched for most individuals and will certainly test our capacity to cooperate with the health authorities to ensure that Grenada is able to control the spread of Covid-19. As authorities have started implementing measures to ensure public safety in this crisis, on social media, it appears people have ignored the advice of government to start implementing social distancing and can be seen having J’ouvert-like festivities in the streets.

Professor at St George’s University (SGU) of the Department of Public Health & Preventive Medicine, Dr Martin Forde, said apart from the washing of hands, social distancing is Grenada’s best method to prevent an outbreak. “Social distancing is a public health tool that is used to do 2 things in particular. It is to contact with you and another person and to provide a certain distance — social distancing. So, it is to try to guarantee that a person has a distance literally between themselves and another person. The reason for that is that because this virus is spread from person to person. If you minimise the opportunities of contact between you and another person, you either hopefully prevent or slow the transmission of this virus.”

Dr Forde pointed to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started, as a real-life case study where strict social distancing has worked effectively in curbing an outbreak. During the spread of Spanish Influenza in 1918, there lies a perfect example of how disregard for adhering to social distancing practices in the wake of a pandemic can have serious repercussions.

For small islands with limited resources, Dr Forde said their best defence is the effective execution of social distancing to avoid strain on the health sector. “If you have limited resources such as Grenada, you want to minimise the number of people that are sick at any given point in time, and so social distancing ensures that when people get sick, they are few in number so that you can control those numbers over a period of time. Therefore, it ensures that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed by hundreds and thousands of people coming to the healthcare system to receive treatment,” he said.

Dr Forde admits that social distancing for an island that strives on social gatherings, will not be easy and will pose a significant challenge for the population, but is considered necessary in this crisis. “Because we like to be among others…because we are social in nature and in some communities and cultures like ours where we are even more social than others — we like to hang out, we like to have fun together and we have close-knit families — those will create challenges for us to now keep the distance.”

The professor believes that social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean isolation in an era where technological advancement has made virtual social interaction more convenient. He recommends, “Why not use technology to our advantage? Everyone has a smartphone, therefore, we can still reach out to our friends so that we use alternatives ways to continue our social interaction for the moment to limit the direct contact because that’s how the virus spreads until it dies down.”

Although the effects of short-term social distancing have not been well researched, it is believed to potentially have social and psychological impacts on society especially for those people who are already suffering from depression and stress or are already somewhat isolated or lonely.

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