Rapid response project of the Social Media Lab

How #PhysicalDistancing Can Help to #FlattenTheCurve


The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation. According to public health experts, outbreaks like the coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread exponentially if left unchecked. Here in Canada, the number of confirmed new cases is starting to grow exponentially. (See stacked bar chart above – updated daily)

Medical experts from around the world, including Canada’s top public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, are advocating for more stringent mitigation measures such as #socialdistancing to curtail the coronavirus outbreak and to help “#flattenthecurve”. At a recent news conference, Dr. Tam warned that “Our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow. We all need to act now. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat.”

In response to this global threat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for how to limit the spread of COVID-19, which include recommendations for “social distancing”—a term that epidemiologists are using to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.

But what does “flatten the curve” mean and what exactly is “physical distancing”?

Physical distancing
Source: @SignerLab & Gary Warshaw.

“Flattening the curve” is a concept from infectious disease epidemiology that calls on communities and countries to take decisive action to intervene in a pandemic to delay and spread out the peak in coronavirus infections so that the healthcare system is not overburden and providing more time for scientists and clinicians to develop a vaccine and treatment.

“physical distancing” or “Social distancing”  is a nonpharmaceutical public health intervention designed to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19. Cancelling large public events to keep crowds away is an example of community level social distancing. At the individual level, social distancing means maintaining a distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible and avoiding public spaces and limiting travel.


In addition to #socialdistancing, here are some additional helpful advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada and CDC on what each of us can do to help to #flattenthecurve and protect ourselves and our communities.

  • Properly #washyourhands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue and discard after each use.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Staying home when sick.
  • Avoiding the use of shared personal items.
  • Clean frequently-used items, surfaces and spaces.

#PhysicalDistancingWorks: But You are Still Not Convinced? Here Are Some Additional Materials