WHO Changes ‘Social Distancing’ to ‘Physical Distancing’

If you’ve had trouble with quarantining yourself in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. But the World Health Organization (WHO) wants everyone to know that while it’s important to stay physically separated from each other, being together mentally is more vital than ever. Which is why the U.N. agency is trying to switch out the popular phrase, “social distancing,” for the more nuanced, “physical distancing.”

Futurism picked up on the change in the terminology policy, which was discussed at several points in the most recent WHO daily press briefing (below). During the briefing, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and COVID-19 technical lead, said that she and her colleagues are exchanging “social distancing” for “physical distancing” because while keeping physical distance from people is essential for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, that “doesn’t mean that socially, we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”

Van Kerkhove added, “We want people to still remain connected, so find ways to do that, ways through the internet and different social media, to remain connected, because your mental health going through this, is just as important as your physical health.”

So far, social distancing, which is technically “a set of nonpharmaceutical infection control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease,” has been deployed in numerous countries throughout the world with varying degrees of intensity. The reasoning is straightforward: If somebody has COVID-19, the most likely way they’d spread it is by sneezing or coughing on someone. But if people are spaced far enough apart, they’re out of the proverbial line of fire no matter who coughs or sneezes.

It will probably take a while for “physical distancing” to catch on and replace “social distancing” as the most commonly used phrase for describing the heath crisis tactic, but hopefully people take the sentiment to heart sooner rather than later. Everybody from Conan O’Brien to Mel Brooks is going a little nuts from all this quarantining, and keeping our brains connected to one another like so many neurons seems like a smart thing to do.

Featured Image: Sean MacEntee

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