The Reality of Social Distancing

As we approach mid-summer, the question uppermost in the minds of many across the country is: “When is this all going to end?” Part of “this” undoubtedly refers to concerns about “social distancing” guidelines. A term unfamiliar to most just months ago has now been adopted into our everyday vernacular.

Due to both the novel and complex nature of the COVID-19 virus, this most pressing question lacks the type of definitive answer for which we yearn. While many had hoped the challenges proffered by the coronavirus outbreak would be behind us by the arrival of summer, that scenario has not been realized.

Even as businesses have gradually been given the green light to reopen, the mandate to “social distance” has not been recalled. Experts advise that just because folks can be out and about more, does not mean that the risk of contracting the virus has disappeared. Hence, the need for continued vigilance and adherence to handwashing and yes, social distancing.

In April, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned that some form of social distancing would be necessary through the summer. That caution has proven to be true. According to a new modeling study from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on-and-off periods of social distancing will likely be needed into 2022 to ensure that hospitals have enough capacity to care for any future COVID-19 patients.

So, what does all of this mean for healthcare facilities? As leaders in the industry, facilities and clinicians and staff members will have an ongoing pivotal role to play as the reality of these continuing, challenging days lie before us.

Consider these three strategies for implementing long-term social distancing practices.

1. A mindset adjustment

What was likely considered a short-term challenge, situation, or even crisis must now be viewed through a broader, more encompassing lens. With the reality of social distancing now leaning much more toward a “long haul” scenario than a temporary snafu, an attitude adjustment is in order. A shift from “we can deal with this for a short time” to “we must make this work for the duration” will be crucial.

2. A detailed review of procedures

Is what we’re doing working to keep patients and employees safe? Is it sustainable? What can be improved? What needs a total overhaul? Honestly seeking answers to tough questions like these will be crucial to incorporating long-term social distancing policies and procedures while continuing to strive for a return to the level of services provided before the pandemic.

3. A facility-wide commitment to the role of educator

While most Americans currently support social distancing measures, folks will likely grow less committed to this useful tool. It will be necessary for healthcare facilities to take an active role in educating the public about the continued need to distance socially.  Plan now to get all-hands-on-deck, from the receptionist to the facility manager, from the CEO to the CNA and cook. Strategize an all-out campaign to educate, remind, encourage, and even cajole, patients, and families, on the reasons behind the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

Together, we can weather this storm and remain committed to the health and welfare of both patients and employees.


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