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What Is Social Distancing?

When it comes to preventing the spread of certain contagious illness—whether you’re trying to keep yourself from getting the cold or flu or attempting to keep your own illness away from others—social distancing can be a valuable tool.

The CDC defines social distancing as keeping space between oneself and anyone else you may come into contact with outside of your home.1 When you stay home from work or school because you’ve got the cold or flu? That’s a kind of social distancing. Other kinds of social distancing include:

  • Working from home until you recover and are no longer contagious
  • Postponing or cancelling events with others
  • Avoiding trips to public spaces until you are no longer contagious

When & How to Practice Social Distancing

If someone’s sick with something like a cold or the flu—illnesses that can pass through droplets from coughs or sneezes; survive on frequently touched surfaces; and transmit through touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with dirty hands—that is the time to practice social distancing through these simple steps:1

  • Keep at least a 6-foot distance between yourself and others
  • Do not gather with anyone with whom you don’t live
  • Avoid large gatherings of people

Learn more about the common ways cold and flu spreads and what else can be done to prevent catching or spreading them.


How Long Should You Social Distance?

How long you should practice keeping your distance in social situations (or avoiding them altogether) depends on how long you are contagious (or how long the person from whom you’re distancing is contagious). For cold and flu, these periods are generally as follows:2

  • Cold: 1 to 2 days before symptoms until all symptoms clear up
  • Flu: 1 day before symptoms until 7 days after feeling sick

Social distancing can help keep colds from moving from colleague to colleague around the office and slow the spread of the flu during flu season. 

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