Social Distancing for Disease Prevention

The recommended precautions are severe. Are they being followed?

As noted in the previous post, epidemiologists and other experts are strongly urging those over 60 and those with a variety of health issues that make them more susceptible to death from the novel coronavirus to stay home as much as possible and, in particular, avoiding crowded places like churches, theaters, and restaurants.

While 60 is in sight, I’m a few years under that threshold and healthy so I’m not doing much different at this stage. Anecdotally, no one around here seems to be doing so, either.

My wife and I went out to dinner last night, as is our Saturday custom. It was a restaurant we’ve never been to before, so don’t have a baseline, but it didn’t seem particularly empty. And, interestingly, we were far and away the youngest patrons in the place. Indeed, most of the others would have felt right at home on a Democratic ticket.

Is the word not getting out? Or are people just not willing to make even relatively modest changes in their behavior at this early juncture in the epidemic?

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lounsbury says:

    Well, the reaping of what one sows. A President who communicates to his political base with no sense of risk only caring for a marketing sense of numbers….

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Intro message on my clinic’s telephone line:

    We’ve been hearing a lot about coronavirus, but our region is not in a known outbreak area and several hundred miles from Seattle, so we are not doing testing. If you feel that you may have contacted someone from an outbreak area, let us know so that we can put you in touch with the appropriate public health people.

    Maybe the people in the restaurant you were at know how to balance the risks adequately. Eh? (Or is Tidewater an outbreak area? I really don’t know.)

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    we were far and away the youngest patrons in the place.

    OK, be honest, did you go to the 4:30 PM seating?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I would not want to go to that clinic.

    By the time you’re in a known “outbreak area,” it’s too late. You find that out because a number of people are already displaying symptoms. If they’re old people or people with certain underlying conditions, they’re likely to die.

    There have been, according to reports, exactly three cases nearish me. Late last week, I heard about a case in Montgomery County, Maryland. This morning, about cases in DC and Fort Belvoir, Virginia. But who knows how many people those three have already infected.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Ha. No, 7:30. Which is fairly typical for us. (I tend to be up before 5 and in bed by 10 or so.) It was a French place and many customers seem to have been regulars.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    Ah, Ft. Belvoir. I committed some of my earliest crimes there when we lived on base. A guy I knew and I stole a rowboat, rowed out on Dogue Creek and raided an anchored power boat. Our loot: a set of nude playing cards. On the way back to shore we realized we’d been spotted so we dumped the cards in the water. Guess what? Playing cards float. Who knew?

    Later we hijacked a road grader and drove it around in the woods. Good times, good times.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    Indeed, most of the others would have felt right at home on a Democratic ticket.


    As I mentioned in another post, I’ve been a bit for circumspect about where I go, but we’re not isolating ourselves. We went to the ballet last weekend and out for dinner after, but we drove to Boston rather than taking the train. I’ve been waiting for a local case and one popped up yesterday in the county, which is a decent sized geographical area. The patient had been to Italy and there have been no reports as to what town he lives in or where he works.

    I’m pretty fatalistic about this and without some very compelling reason, I’ll take some precautions but won’t be shutting my life down. If it were the typical flu, we could expect the risk to pass in a few weeks as the weather warms, but it has yet to be determined if Covid-19 will follow a similar path or continue to be contagious. If it does continue to be contagious, self isolation will need to continue for months if not years till the risk passes. Even for an introvert that might be too much alone time.

  8. @Guarneri:

    Mind readers tell us what Trump is thinking,

    He keeps doing a great job of that himself. Or are you saying you don’t believe what he says?

  9. I was just on a trip to Austin. There were some people refraining from handshakes or hugs, but on balance, most folks I was around (at an academic conference) were not yet changing behavior all that much as yet (but most of the folks were from areas without significant outbreaks yet–i.e., most of the attendees were from the southeast).

    I did notice in the airport restrooms that everyone seemed to be washing their hands like they were going into surgery.

  10. PJ says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I did notice in the airport restrooms that everyone seemed to be washing their hands like they were going into surgery.

    And when exiting the restroom, how did they open the door?

  11. mattbernius says:

    Most airports have removed the exterior doors on bathrooms, using walls to create privacy.

  12. @PJ: As mattbernius notes correctly, no door handles, just walls to walk around.

    Most restaurants have trash cans by the doors so you can open with a paper towel and then deposit on the way out (but that is a trend that is 10+ years old).

  13. gVOR08 says:

    And, interestingly, we were far and away the youngest patrons in the place. Indeed, most of the others would have felt right at home on a Democratic ticket.

    I used to have a rule – don’t eat where the old people eat. The sense of taste seems to be the second thing to go. Since I retired to FL I find it impossible to follow that rule and still find anywhere to dine out.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Most restaurants have trash cans by the doors so you can open with a paper towel and then deposit on the way out (but that is a trend that is 10+ years old).

    Interestingly, we just implemented that practice at the college late last week. It’s a brand new building and they tried to go environmentally friendly with blowers but I guess disposable towels are better than hot blowy air when you have a pandemic.

  15. James Joyner says:


    I used to have a rule – don’t eat where the old people eat. The sense of taste seems to be the second thing to go.

    A good rule, I think, although the food at this place turned out to be pretty good. We moved across the county last August and, even though we’re only 20 miles or so from the old house, are shopping and dining in completely different places. We’re intentionally trying to find new favorite restaurants via Yelp and Open Table and that can be hit-or-miss.

  16. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    even though we’re only 20 miles or so from the old house

    20 miles in Northern Virginia can be like 75 anywhere else.

  17. James Joyner says:


    20 miles in Northern Virginia can be like 75 anywhere else.

    No joke. From the old house, Old Town Alexandria was our go-to dining-out spot and the Route 1 corridor was where we did most of our shopping. The city of Fairfax seemed a bridge too far, much less Manassas or Chantilly. Now, we frequent those places.

    Party because we moved to a five-acre lot “in the country,” things are further away. But there’s so much less traffic here that 12 miles to the Home Depot in Fairfax is the same drive time as the 2 miles to the Home Depot on Route 1.

  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    One of our favorite lunch places, with a notably older crowd, was significantly emptier this last Thursday.

    Response appears to be regional, and yes, differentiated on politics.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Another alternative is to stand near the door and wait until someone else goes out or comes in.

  20. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I would not want to go to that clinic

    The message sounds much more calming than this:

    We have insufficient testing capabilities, and insufficient supplies to protect our workers. Good luck out there.

    I assure you that this, or something similar, was the first draft of that message.

  21. Tyrell says:

    I went to a game the other night and it was nearly full (around 17, 000 or so). The high school games seem to be at their usual attendance. Teachers say their attendance has been good, with little or no flu. In two weeks the nearest theme park opens and it will be at its usual numbers for March.
    Spring weather is forecast for the next few weeks. When people get outside in the sun and nice air, that will help.

  22. sam says:

    Well, the wife (at 70) and I (at 79) are going out to dinner tonight, but that might be the last for a while. It’s easy for me to stay home. She, however, is still working and I am a bit concerned. We live in New Mexico, which hasn’t seen any cases yet. But she works at the university, and my hunch is that that might be just the place where the damned thing pops up.

    I’m having my yearly physical a week from Monday, and I intend to devote a lot of the conversation to the virus.

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Actually, the owner of the clinic is an old-timey Medical Diety type who would never be willing to admit insufficiencies of any sort. The strength of the clinic is that he keeps hiring good young people to do the actual medical stuff. And Longview/Kelso is about 4 hours away from Seattle and an hour from Portland, so I’m less worried than I would be if I was living in a place where there are 3 recent outbreaks and a big city to spread the disease around in. Additionally, we got hit pretty hard by the flu earlier, so we’re a little more conditioned to the potential. Since the practice seems mostly geriatric, I expect that the message was changed after the 10th or so “I just sneezed; I need to come to the clinic and get tested for the corona thingie right away” call.

    But yes, if our little town, (population 50,000 or so) becomes a hot zone, you’re absolutely correct about not having enough testing capacity and protection for workers–just like pretty much everybody else so far. (Let’s get serious. How many cities anywhere have enough isolation beds for a cruise ship with 1,000+ passengers and staff? Oops, my mistake 2 cruise ships now.)

  24. Jen says:

    We decided to do takeout on Friday instead of going out (as is our usual custom) because we decided we had to finish collecting all of the info for our taxes. On our way to pick up the order, we passed several restaurants that are typically packed on Friday nights; all of them had space in their lots.

    I’m not sure what to make of it–coincidence or people dialing back on social interaction. As SleepingDog notes, we’re starting to see cases in NH (4 confirmed as of today).

    We have a few folks in our town who are insisting that town meeting should be delayed, which I think would be a bit much and unnecessary.

  25. Kari Q says:

    I had a trip planned in May to visit my 78 year old father. The two of us were going to go to my sister’s graduation ceremony at Vanderbilt. I’m thinking that both of those things sound like really bad ideas now. I’m not worried about myself, since I am a healthy 50-something and it is my understanding that means I am at a relatively low risk for complications, but my father? That’s a different thing altogether.

  26. Mu Yixiao says:

    The company I work for shut down all non-essential international travel (they have offices in Italy and suppliers in China, amongst other places) this past week. I think that’s probably sensible.

    On the other hand, Health & Safety did mandatory hand-washing classes for the entire factory (which seems a little over the top) and is rationing hand sanitizer and wipes (because they can’t get any), and they’re sending staff to wipe down work areas whenever someone goes home sick (the flu hit the factory fairly hard–no Covid-19… yet).

    On the gripping hand, a few of the office staff work at restaurants as a second job, and they’ve said that business isn’t slowing down at all. And it certainly wasn’t stopping people from hitting the Chinese grocery store on Saturday (though about half of them were wearing masks–which is not unusual for Chinese, even when they’re in the US).

    For the record: There’s been one confirmed case in the area. A student returning from Christmas break in China.

  27. MarkedMan says:


    At work we have put hand sanitizer dispensers all around the office but there isn’t any general move to work from home.

    We have a colleague stranded in Wuhan.

    Some of our products are used in the production of N95 masks and other filters, so we are hyper tuned to that market. We have been hearing a lot about new facilities being built to produce them, or existing facilities repurposed, but really don’t know have a sense as to whether these will actually occur or if it is just contingency planning.

    In the past, I often went to HIMSS, a giant Health Informatics conference and trade show in Orlando every year. It was to start on Monday and was cancelled last Thursday, during setup. 40K people not getting on planes at the last minute, not showing up for their hotel rooms, not eating out or buying drinks.

    I just returned from a filter trade show in Chicago (a much, much smaller affair than HIMSS) and despite having about 15% of the manufacturers drop out (mostly Chinese due to inability to travel) it was fairly well attended but of course filters may not be typical.

    I’m setting the schedule for the next few months for engineering travel to customers and trade show support and I’ve warned everyone that while anything may be cancelled we need to assume we are going until that happens. I’m going to India myself at the end of May and will be taking a very hard look at facts on the ground until I actually get on the plane.

    We are in Baltimore and went to a museum and a restaurant over the weekend and both seemed about normal.

  28. Matt says:

    @James Joyner: The air hand dryers tend to blow the germs everywhere. Like a fountain of nasty.

  29. Michael Cain says:

    Hit the Denver Zoo today with the granddaughters. Crowded as always on a spring-like Sunday.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Not willing………… this early juncture. Americans are not known for reflective self control.

    Nor are they taking this seriously. CNNs initial take was that the virus task force was insufficiently diverse. Science. Mind readers tell us what Trump is thinking, and of course never contemplate what the realities are and what is going on behind the scenes, or what is even possible. Politics over substance. And so it goes.

    Wow, the amount of projection there is incredible…Trump is not known for any kind of self control, reflexive or otherwise…the Trump Administration is not taking this seriously…politics over substance is one of the defining traits of Trump and his lackeys…so it goes indeed…

  31. Gustopher says:

    No social distancing at CPAC this year.

    Now people who attended are self-quarantining. But that’s probably just a democrat hoax.

  32. Tyrell says:

    @Michael Cain: I looked at the Disney World Magic Kingdom wait times today: long as ever.