What is Social Distancing? 16 Ways to Practice it at Home and Work

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Updated April 8, 2020

Social distancing is on the tip of every tongue right now, mentioned in every news story, and all over the internet. While social distancing is a term that epidemiologists have been familiar with for quite some time, for most of us it’s a new idea. 

Because it’s so new for us, many Canadians are asking questions like “can I still hang out with my friends?” Or, “is it okay to have a dinner party?” And, “will that one playdate really hurt?”

Many of these questions stem from not really understanding the idea behind social distancing and why it’s so important. That’s why this article will focus on things like how coronavirus spreads, why social distancing is necessary, what you can and can’t do while you’re practicing it, and more than 15 things you can do at work and home to make sure you’re being socially responsible with your social distancing practice.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing, which some people are starting to call physical distancing instead, is a technique used to prevent the spread of a disease by reducing contact between people. It involves things like staying home whenever possible, avoiding crowded places when you do have to go out, and maintaining distance between you and other people at all times.

Social distancing can be thought of as the first stage in the fight against the spread of a pathogen, and it’s something that we should all be doing. There are other stages as well for people who have potentially been exposed, and they are self-monitoring, self-isolation, and isolation.

StageWho should practiceWhen to practiceHow to practice For how long
Social distancingEveryoneAlwaysAvoid contact with and stay 2m away from othersIndefinitely 
Self-monitoringAsymptomatic peopleAfter possible exposureUse social distancing and monitor symptoms 14 days
Self-isolation Asymptomatic peopleAfter travel, contact with a traveller, or contact with an infected personStay at home, avoid contact with others, and monitor symptoms 14 days
IsolationSymptomatic peopleAfter being tested or diagnosed Don’t leave the house and avoid contact with people, even at homeUntil you’re cleared

History of social distancing

Social distancing has been used since at least the early 1900s to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. When a polio epidemic happened in New York in 1916, the reaction was much the same as it has been in Canada and the rest of the world over the past few weeks — close down schools, restaurants, movie theatres, and other public spaces, and prevent large gatherings. Social distancing was also used to prevent the spread of the Spanish flu back in 1918.

Why is social distancing important during this pandemic?

The coronavirus spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. That means any time an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even exhales, they expel droplets containing the virus. You can contract coronavirus by touching an infected person, being too close to an infected person, or touching an infected surface. A huge problem is that people can be sick with the coronavirus and not even know it.

This is why it’s so important to maintain physical distance right now: you can prevent yourself from catching the virus by staying away from other people. Similarly, if you’re sick and don’t know it, you can keep other people healthy by staying away from them.

One of the reasons this is so important with the coronavirus is because it’s a novel virus, meaning we’ve never seen this strain in humans before. That means there’s no vaccine and no cure, and nobody is immune to the virus.

If the virus spreads too quickly, our healthcare system will be overrun, and there won’t be enough resources to care for all the patients. Social distancing can help us flatten the curve, which means slowing the spread of the virus so that fewer people need medical attention.

10 ways to practice social distancing at home

Social distancing is important in every aspect of our lives right now, and there are plenty of ways you can practice it at home and in your daily life. Here are ways you can maintain social distance starting right now.

See how well Canadians are social distancing by checking out Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Report for each province.

1. Stay home

The number one rule of social distancing is to stay away from other people, and the easiest way to do that is to stay home whenever possible. This doesn’t mean you can never leave the house, but avoid going out into public spaces unless it’s necessary, such as for grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, and heading to work.

2. Stay 2 metres away from other people

When you do have to go out and find yourself in a place where there are other people, keep a space of 2 metres (6 feet) between you and anyone else around you. This is generally enough space that if a sick person breathes or coughs in your vicinity, you’ll still be far enough away that you won’t get sick. Elevators can be tricky for this, so you might want to get used to taking the stairs.

3. Avoid large gatherings

During a pandemic, just pretend crowded places are filled with zombies. To avoid getting bitten — or in reality contracting coronavirus— stay away from large groups of people. This might mean making sacrifices, but your health and the health of your community depends on it. The good news is that a lot of things have been shut down already, but you should still be avoiding places and saying no to events like:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Parties
  • Restaurant outings
  • Religious services
  • Concerts
  • Sporting events
  • Movies
  • Cultural and tourist attractions

4. Stock up on essential supplies during off-peak hours

When you do have to head out of the house for groceries or the like, you can still get what you need and practice social distancing by going when there are fewer people about.

This could be in the early morning, in the middle of the day, or later in the evening. The trick is to avoid pre-work, lunch, and post-work rushes at the grocery stores and pharmacies. Going at off-peak hours will especially reduce your contact with others if you have to take public transit.  

Also, while you’re out, pick up a few extra things (without panic buying) to keep on the shelf, and make sure you have enough medication on hand so that you won’t have to go out again soon.

5. Shop online

The world has been perfecting online shopping and delivery ever since the internet became publicly available. In fact, people have been buying anything and everything online for decades, so we’re already pros at this social distancing practice. You might not typically use the web for things like buying groceries and medications, but now is a great time to start. If it helps you avoid being around people, then take advantage.

7. Stay away from vulnerable populations

Most people who contract coronavirus only experience mild symptoms, and recover on their own without medical assistance within a couple of weeks. But there’s a subset of the population who is at risk of developing serious health complications or dying from this disease, and you have to take special care to stay away from them.

Vulnerable populations include people over 65, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying or chronic medical conditions. As such, it’s especially important to avoid all non-essential trips to:

  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Seniors communities
  • Retirement homes

7. Exercise outside

Most gyms and recreational facilities have already closed, but even if there’s one in your community that remains open, you’re still better off staying away. Instead, exercise at home with a DVD, make up your own yoga routine, go for a jog, jump on the bike, or find another way to get your heart rate up without hitting the gym.

8. Sleep in your own bed

Social distancing can make you feel isolated, and it might be tempting to have a sleepover with a friend or significant other to combat those feelings of loneliness. But now more than ever it’s important to keep that safe distance between you and others, even a significant other. Even if you live together, you can still prevent the transmission of a disease by maintaining space and sleeping separately if possible.

9. Talk to friends and family online or through video chat

Speaking of loneliness and isolation, people are definitely feeling these effects of social distancing right now. Check on family, stay in touch, and keep connected during these tough times — just make sure you do it from a distance. You can still talk on the phone, video chat, eat dinner together over Skype, watch your favourite shows with your friends on the phone, or even have an in-person conversation with a neighbour from your respective porches or balconies. But whatever you do, stay out of each other’s homes.

10. Arrange virtual playdates for the kids

Adults aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of isolation and boredom, and children and young adults also need to find ways to stay busy and connected right now. Just like you can safely keep in touch with friends and family through video chat and other technologies, so too can the kids stay connected with their friends in the same way.

Talk to other parents and arrange virtual playdates where the kids can chat, play games, and otherwise interact at a safe distance using conferencing, messaging, and video chat apps.

6 ways to practice social distancing at work

It’s just as important to practice social distancing at work, where people are often in close quarters for many hours each day. The good news is there are things you can do to maintain your social distancing practice even in the workplace.

1. Work from home when possible

It might sound obvious, but the best way to reduce contact with others at the workplace is to avoid the workplace, and right now people are coming up with creative ways to take their work home. If you’re one of those Canadians who’s lucky enough to have the type of job that can be done remotely, then work from home instead of going into the office.

You might have to download new software on your computer, take equipment home, forward calls, buy new equipment for your home office, or make other arrangements, but it will be worth it.

2. Take advantage of flexible work arrangements

 When working from home isn’t an option, talk to your employer about flex policies that could allow you to continue working while also minimizing contact. Here are some possible flex options:

  • Staggering your start time with that of other employees
  • Working fewer hours each day
  • Reducing the number of days each week you go in to work
  • Working in the early morning or late evening instead of during the day

3. Hold meetings remotely

 Nobody likes meetings anyway, right? Well now you have a perfectly good reason to cancel them entirely, or at least attend them from the comfort of your office or bed. There are plenty of teleconferencing and video apps out there you can use to stay in the loop at work while also maintaining distance.

4. Keep a safe distance from others at work

 The same rules apply in the workplace as they do everywhere else, so when you’re at work, keep a distance of at least 2 metres between yourself and your co-workers, bosses, clients, and other people you come in contact with throughout the work day. This might mean having to take measures such as:

  • Moving desks to increase space
  • Installing temporary walls or plexiglass to create separation
  • Avoiding kitchens and break rooms when there are other employees present
  • Stay away from conferences and meetings

5. Avoid high-touch surfaces at work

Office door handles, phones, computers, and toilets all have one thing in common: tons of dirty hands touch them every day. These are high-touch surfaces, and they can transmit bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus. At work, avoid touching these surfaces, and definitely don’t touch your nose, mouth, or eyes afterward without washing your hands.

6. Postpone business trips if possible

There are many reasons to avoid travel right now, including for business. For one, the majority of coronavirus cases in Canada have been related to travel. As such, Canadians are being told to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country, and that includes business trips that can be postponed. Moreover, travelling means being in close proximity to other people, so it’s best if you can avoid it right now, even if it’s just a domestic business trip.

What other steps can I take to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Social distancing is a very effective tool against the spread of coronavirus, but it works even better in conjunction with other measures. Aside from the social distancing practices talked about already, you can also combat COVID-19 by being vigilant about good hygiene practices, and that means:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after grocery shopping or being in public
  • When you wash your hands, scrub for at least 20 seconds
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask, tissue or bend of your arm when you sneeze or cough
  • Don’t touch your face if you haven’t washed your hands
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces daily
  • Cook your food thoroughly
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, and other physical contact
  • Stay away from sick people, and self-isolate when you’re sick


Social distancing isn’t theoretically hard to do, but practicing it in the real world does take some rewiring of habits we’ve had our entire lives. You can’t just pop in on a neighbour anymore, or head out to a restaurant for happy hour after work, or go to the movies when you’re bored. But we can get through this, and we have to remember that while social distancing requires some sacrifice, it’s well worth the effort.

Social distancing at home and work will slow the spread of coronavirus, reduce the strain on our healthcare system, and keep your friends and loved ones safe. Even if you’re a young, healthy person, chances are you know somebody who would be vulnerable to this disease, and that’s why you’re doing things like staying home whenever possible, keeping your distance from others, avoiding social and public gatherings, and practicing good hygiene habits.


Am I allowed to leave the house?

Yes, as long as you’re healthy, haven’t travelled recently, and haven’t had possible exposure to COVID-19. You can still go for a walk, take a hike, enjoy a bike ride, sit in your front yard, garden, chat with the neighbours from the porch, take the dog for a walk, and many of the other outdoor activities you love. Just keep in mind your social and physical distancing rules and hygiene habits.

How long do we have to practice social distancing?

Many experts are saying we might have to practice some measure of social distancing for up to 12 to 18 months, but it depends heavily on what measures are taken and the vaccine expected to take at least 18 months. Again, this is a novel virus, so we can’t really predict what’s going to happen next. That doesn’t mean we’ll have to self-isolate for that long, but chances are we’re going to have to be responsible with social distance for quite some time to make sure new cases don’t keep popping up.

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Over to you

What creative ways have you found to stay busy while also practicing social distancing? Help other readers through this tough time by sharing tips, advice, and funny stories in the comments below.

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Cansumer Staff
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