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How to social distance as beauty salons, stores and restaurants reopen

To stop the spread of the coronavirus, social distancing is important, especially as businesses reopen.

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Social distancing is a public health strategy that is important to take seriously to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

The coronavirus pandemic is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon, with 8 million cases now reported worldwide -- and the US is leading in the total number of cases per country (with Brazil following close behind). Yet, states and businesses continue to reopen throughout the summer meaning there are more chances to potentially contract or infect others with the virus now that many are leaving their homes again.

In many US cities, there are still widespread school closures, many people are now working from home and countless businesses like restaurants, bars, coffee shops, fitness studios and gyms are remaining closed or limiting operations in an effort to keep people at home. 

We now know that the main way the virus is transmitted is through close contact with others, usually within 6 feet. So your best bet for protecting yourself and others is to avoid close contact, especially prolonged contact, with others. For this reason, the CDC recommends that people continue to practice what many public health officials say is one of the most important strategies for everyone to comply with (not just those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or feel sick): social distancing.  

Social distancing is practicing putting physical distance between yourself and others when you go out in public, and staying home as much as possible. But the lines may seem a bit blurry when it comes to maintaining social distance while also going back to restaurants and dining outside, seeing friends outdoors, or even going back to the hair salon. White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told CBS News that COVID-19 is "about two to three times more contagious than flu -- and so that's why we want everybody to do everything they can." 

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Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are urging young and healthy populations to comply with social distancing, especially since you can carry this virus and not display symptoms. This means that even if you feel fine, you can still infect others, especially the elderly, immunocompromised people and people with certain health conditions who are at a greater risk of getting seriously ill.

Read more: Why you shouldn't make your own hand sanitizer

Social distancing is not an easy thing to do, but it's necessary during this pandemic. Given that it can feel extreme, lonely and sad to avoid people, here's how you can do your part to reduce the spread of the virus, but still stay sane and feel connected to those you love. Remember, it's a temporary measure that can help protect countless others (and yourself) in the long run.

If you're confused about how exactly social distancing works and how you should do it, Dr. Natasha LaBeaud Anzures, who specializes in public health and human services, answers the most frequently asked questions surrounding social distancing below.

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It's important to avoid crowds or gatherings of people -- and if you do have to be near someone, stay at least 6 feet away.

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What is social distancing?

"Social distancing is increasing the physical space between you and other individuals to avoid spreading illness. Because the virus is spread from person to person, the CDC recommendation is to stay at least 6 feet from others to reduce spreading COVID-19. In addition, staying away from crowds of individuals is a part of social distancing, which is why there have been so many sports, school and event cancellations, and a shift to remote working environments for individuals," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says. 

It's important to add that this includes staying home as much as possible and avoid going to stores, malls, restaurants, bars or other public places just because they are open. Even though many restaurants are beginning to open, the safest option for enjoying a meal from your favorite place is to order it to-go and avoid eating out around strangers or in groups. 

Some restaurants are opening dining rooms and limiting the number of people or offering dining service outdoors as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC recommends checking that the business is taking safety measures for COVID-19 and that the staff are wearing face coverings. You should also wear a mask when not eating, and make sure that your table is 6 feet away from others.

Read more: How to safely order food delivery, takeout and groceries during coronavirus quarantines

Who should be doing social distancing? 

"COVID-19 has been labeled as a pandemic, a global outbreak of the disease. As a result, it is important for everyone to take social distancing recommendations seriously since the virus is spread mainly from close person-to-person contact," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says.

Everyone, in every community across the US, should be practicing social distancing, whether you feel sick or feel fine. If everyone follows these orders, it will help slow the spread of coronavirus, "flatten the curve" and protect public health.

What's the difference between social distancing, social isolation and quarantine?

Social distancing, isolation, and quarantine are all different practices based on the situation. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, self-quarantine is when someone who is well but suspects they've come in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus chooses to separate themselves from others for a period of time. This gives them a chance to monitor any potential symptoms or illness that can develop if they've been exposed. 

Quarantine is for those who are sick or present multiple symptoms in line with the coronavirus, and a doctor has instructed them to self-isolate. 

Isolation is when someone totally isolates themselves from any contact with others -- this can happen at a hospital or at home if the person is relatively healthy enough to fight the virus. 

Social distancing is avoiding going into public spaces and staying at least 6 feet away from anyone who is not in your household, whether you're indoors or out.

Read more: How to wash your hands to protect yourself against coronavirus

Can I have people over?

"The best mindset with this is 'less is more.' Less contact with others outside of your household unit is the best option to help reduce the spread of COVID-19," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says. In general, if one other person who hasn't been exposed or sick is in your home or apartment, the risk is low. But for now, stick to Skype, FaceTime and other virtual social connections when you can. 

The CDC recently updated guidelines for best practices to follow as people host gatherings or outdoor cookouts this summer. The CDC urges people who feel sick, show any symptoms of coronavirus or have been near someone who is sick, to avoid gatherings of any kind and stay home. For groups who are especially vulnerable, like older adults or immunocompromised individuals, or people who live with these populations, the CDC recommends avoiding gatherings of any kind to minimize risk.

If you host or attend a gathering with friends and family outside your household, here's what you can do to minimize risk:

  • Hold the event outside when possible, and if not, inside a well-ventilated space (e.g., open doors/windows to increase air flow).
  • Space people 6 feet apart when placing tables and chairs. People who live together can remain at the same table but they should be spaced 6 feet away from people they don't live with.
  • Encourage everyone to wear face coverings and have extras on hand to provide for guests who aren't wearing them when they arrive.
  • Continue practicing good hand hygiene and encourage guests to use hand sanitizer and wash their hands, especially before eating.

Can I leave my house? 

"Since the situation with COVID-19 is fluid and ever-changing, this answer is not the same for all communities and cities," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says. "Check your local public health department for the most up-to-date information about what is allowed in terms of leaving the home."

If you are not under a strict mandate to stay home, then you can leave your house for the time being. Again, avoid getting closer than 6 feet to anyone or being in a place where more than 10 people are gathered together. Outdoor places, like parks, are your best bet to be able to get fresh air and keep your distance from others. 

Many stores and restaurants are closing or changing operations to limit exposure. For now, shop online for anything you need when you can and order takeout or to-go orders from your favorite places.

Beauty salons

If your hair or nail salon is open again, chances are you are itching to get back. The CDC has only updated guidelines for nail salons, but below are some measures you can take no matter what type of salon you are going to. 

If you go, one of the first things you can do is call your stylist and ask what safety precautions they are taking (e.g., limiting number of clients allowed inside at once, providing Plexiglas barriers, spacing out work stations, cleaning, wearing face coverings). If you don't think they are taking these safety measures seriously, find another salon that is. 

Then when you make an appointment see if you can avoid waiting in a waiting area by remaining in your car or outside until it's time for your appointment. During your appointment, avoid touching common surfaces and wash your hands after using a nail dryer or any other shared object.

Going to the gym

Gyms and fitness centers were some of the first businesses to reopen during Phase 1 of reopening in many parts of the US. And while exercising outdoors or alone inside your home are the safest options, the CDC has added guidelines for how to stay safe if you do go back to a gym

The CDC says it's best to find gyms that offer outdoor space and avoid taking classes in a group, unless they are outside and there is adequate space to practice social distancing. You should also check that the facility is putting extra safety measures in place like extra cleaning, staff protocol to wear face coverings and placing Plexiglas barriers in receptions areas. 

You should also practice good hand hygiene, and also wipe down any equipment you use before and after you touch it with disinfectant. The CDC also encourages that you continue to wear a mask while exercising

Should I avoid seeing elderly friends or relatives and people who are immunocompromised? 

"Yes. The most caring thing that you can do for individuals who are elderly and immunocompromised is avoid seeing them right now. However, you can still call, text and Skype these individuals and speak with them to let them know that you care and are thinking about them," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says. 

These groups of people are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from a coronavirus infection and so it's important to protect them from others who might carry the virus.

Read more: 6 devices to keep tabs on your aging family members without invading their privacy   

How can I still hang out with friends?

Social distancing is putting a halt on lots of people's social lives as they know them. While this is hard, it's still important for people to comply. This does not mean you should totally cut off your social connections -- that is not conducive to mental health and feeling better in general. 

So, call your friends, do group video chats on Skype or FaceTime and find other ways to connect, like playing video games remotely. If you're watching Netflix, get some of your friends to do a "virtual" watch party -- where you all watch the same movie or show and can see each other's reactions on a group call, or start a group text to chat while you watch. 

If you decide to attend a gathering with friends, limit the frequency and also be sure to comply with the CDC recommendations as outlined above.

Read more: Free entertainment to help you survive coronavirus social distancing

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If you live with your family or roommates, be sure to clean common areas regularly. 

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What if I live with roommates?

"With roommates, it is important to maintain the same proper hygiene procedures that you would with family. This means washing your hands frequently, and for at least 20 seconds. Touching the face, eyes and nose should also be avoided. Also, it is important to regularly clean the surfaces of your living area that are touched on a regular basis," Dr. LaBeaud Anzures says. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.