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Should We Continue Social Distancing?

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Posted: May 28, 2020

At first, we were really encouraged; the lockdown and other measures were ensuring that Kenya had a small, controlled outbreak of Covid-19. But how long will we have to stay in our homes and away from our livelihoods to continue keeping the disease under control? And despite the sacrifices of the many who have stayed home the past two months, Kenya has seen its largest increase in new cases in a single day (123 cases) today. And that’s discouraging.

There are some who believe we should just let the disease rip through society and see who remains to stand (believing the lockdown to be more dangerous and painful than the disease itself). Others believe that we should continue with social isolation and protect the country’s health workers and the more vulnerable in society. We believe it will have to be somewhere in between the two.

But we wanted to share with you the opinion of Jonathan Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist from Yale University, who wrote a letter to his neighbourhood consisting of 50 families to stress the need of social distancing. His letter has gone viral.

In the letter, Jonathan talks about two social distancing aspects that have been overlooked by most people and why we should take them seriously.

First, he claims that since we are still at the initial stages of this pandemic, we will continue witnessing a rise in new cases and deaths within our communities nationally and globally. Although some may feel discouraged by the rising numbers, he assures the community that this is not a sign of failure but an inevitable situation of the virus running its course (ie, it would be so much worse if we hadn’t been social distancing all this time).

He also warns people not to give in to hopelessness or throw caution to the wind as the numbers keep rising as this is part of the “unforgiving math of epidemics” he and other epidemiologists have dedicated their lives to studying. Additionally, Jonathan encourages communal solidarity in practising social distancing as it is greatly reducing the number of cases and deaths even if the numbers are not encouraging.

Secondly, the epidemiologist urges everyone to keep in mind that social distancing is separating us from large groups of people but it is bringing together families and households. Studies conducted have proved that it takes only a bit of human connection to make the situation worse and seem like no measures were ever taken in the first place. For example, even if you only interact with one person, you are also essentially interacting with all the people they have interacted with and the people those people have mixed with. The number goes up exponentially. And if you are unlucky to get the disease through your small number of interactions, you will be putting your whole family unit at risk.

Furthermore, he stresses that social distancing is a society effort and it will take a long time to see the results and benefits but we cannot cheat the system. Until a vaccine is developed, any attempt to interact with others in person puts us at more risk of spreading the virus and increasing the number of cases and deaths. Jonathan urges communities to follow the social distancing rules, strategies and actions as much as possible so that we can beat this pandemic.

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