Practicing Physical Distancing

What is physical distancing?

Physical distancing (also known as social distancing) means to stay 6 feet apart from others. It is a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing close contact between people. The closer you are to other people who are not fully vaccinated and the more time you spend with those people, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks or practice physical distancing in most indoor or outdoor settings except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Why is physical distancing important?

Physical distancing is another important tool to lower your risk, especially if you are not fully vaccinated or have a weakened immune system. Physical distancing works the best with other prevention measures, such as mask wearing and hand washing. But, the best way to lower your risk of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.

Tips for physical distancing (if you are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated)

  • When you leave home, keep at least six feet between yourself and others. Not everyone with the virus may have symptoms or know that they have COVID-19. 
  • Try to stay out of crowded places. Even when staying at least six feet apart, try to limit the amount of time you are in contact with people you do not live with. A quick trip to the grocery store for a few essential items is less risky than spending several hours at a party, even if you stay six feet away from others at the party. Outdoor gatherings are safer than those held indoors. 
  • Limit in-person visits to the pharmacy. Use drive-thru windows, curbside services, mail-order, or other delivery services. Do the same for pet medicine. Check with your doctor and pharmacist to see if you can get a larger supply of your medicines so you do not have to visit the pharmacy as often.
  • You should wear a mask according to CDC guidelines, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public settings.
  • Wash hands often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or removing your mask. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together for at least 30 seconds until dry.
  • AVOID handshakes, hugs, and kisses. INSTEAD, try a wave, nod, or bow.
  • AVOID in-person meetings and close contact. INSTEAD, use online conferencing, email, or phone calls with coworkers. Telework when possible. Limit in-person contact when running essential errands. For example, bank online whenever possible. If you must visit the bank, use a drive-through or walk-up ATM if available.
  • AVOID grocery shopping during peak hours. INSTEAD, use grocery delivery or curbside pickup. If you need to go to the grocery store, pick a time when the store is less crowded (for example, early morning or late night).
  • AVOID family gatherings that mix relatives from different homes if some people are not fully vaccinated and are at increased risk for serious illness. We tend to think that people we are related to and love can’t give us COVID-19, but a number of COVID-19 outbreaks have been from family gatherings that included people who don’t live together. INSTEAD, stay in touch by calling, texting, or video chatting. Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings.
  • DO NOT DELAY  medical care. INSTEAD, call your healthcare provider first. They may offer  options for telemedicine and may be taking extra steps to keep their office safe; like requiring everyone to wear a mask. REMEMBER, if you are having any medical emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Don’t let physical distancing lead to social isolation

Safe activities can involve yard work, family game night with those you live with, going on a walk or other exercise, calling or texting a friend or older neighbor, hosting an online happy hour, visiting with a friend from the yard or sidewalk while they stay on the porch, writing a letter, virtual trivia nights, joining an online book club discussion group, attending online worship services, playing video games, or watching your favorite show and comparing notes with your friends afterwards. Look for creative ways to connect to loved ones as we try to keep others safe.

Dining Out 

If you choose to dine indoors, you should wear a mask unless you are eating or drinking, regardless of your vaccination status. 

Dining outdoors with tables 6 feet apart is safer.

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Page Last Reviewed: August 17, 2021