Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Dr. Paul Hendricks, Health Officer for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, speaks during a press conference in Golley Auditorium at the Hamilton County Health Department on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was announced during the Press conference that the second and third cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in Hamilton County had been confirmed.

Q: I think I'm getting bad advice from a friend about social distancing. What should I be doing?

A: Our best chance to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 from spreading to all corners of the country is for everybody to diligently practice social-distancing principles. If we all play our part, we can minimize both the burden placed upon our health-care system as well as the number of deaths that will result from this coronavirus.

Quite simply, social distancing is the act of keeping a safe distance from others whenever possible. Actually, I prefer to say "physical" distancing since socializing with friends and family is so important. But at this time our socializing must be by phone or internet, so think of it as "socializing from a distance."

COVID-19 most commonly spreads when airborne droplets from an infected person's cough land on the nose, mouth or eyes of another person. It also spreads when a healthy person inhales the airborne exhalation of an infected person. If you are within 6 feet of an infected person, you are in their "breathing zone" and are at high risk for infection. We know now that some people can be infectious for a few days before they become symptomatic, and some people with the virus may never develop symptoms, so just avoiding people who are sick is not good enough.

Some guidelines for effective social distancing include:

— Keep 6 feet away from other people if you have to go to the store for needed supplies.

— Discontinue handshakes, hugs and other "close contact" greetings; try waving!

— Avoid all nonessential travel, including local, especially where public or other confining transportation with others is necessary.

— Keep away from gatherings of people (parties, conferences, concerts, crowded restaurants/bars).

— Use videoconferencing technologies as an alternative to meetings/classroom work.

— Discontinue play dates and hangouts for kids from outside your household for now.

Put into practice, social distancing has been shown to significantly slow down the rate of infection from COVID-19. This gives health-care providers a greater advantage in accommodating the demand for necessary care. Left unchecked without a social-distancing "firewall" to stop it, community spread of coronavirus will overwhelm the system, putting very, very large numbers of people in harm's way — including health-care providers themselves.

For answers to additional questions, call the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383.

— Dr. Paul Hendricks, health officer, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department