Why ‘Physical Distancing’ is Difficult at Home

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How can you practice ‘physical distancing’ at home, in a family setting? Isaac Wafula shares personal experiences.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been emphasising social distancing, also called “physical distancing,” as one of the means to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19, a disease caused by the Coronavirus.

Health experts emphasise keeping at least six feet, or about two arms’ length, from other people; avoiding gatherings and; staying out of crowded places. The experts push for physical separation that reduces risk of infection at individual level.

In a public setting, these are straightforward. At home, however, distancing is not easy unless you live alone. And yet, the risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than in open-air environments, according to one study.

So, how can you practice ‘physical distancing’ at home, in a family setting?

On March 22, 2020, the Uganda recorded her first Coronavirus case, I was suffering from a running nose. Then sneezing was normal until the Ministry of Heath urged people suffering from flu to stay home. Suddenly, stigmatising of those sneezing turned into an issue.

Fearing I may contract the disease easily, my parents advised I stay home given my allergies. I was hesitant to stay home because I thought it awkward not to go to work simply because of flu. But later on I thought it wise to obey my parents.

Like a silent grave I descended into my personal abyss of quietness, emotionally as well as physically. My inner self too shared in the quietness, since often I was locked up in my room either sleeping or listening to radio. For a month I was not heard of at work, it was as though I was a victim of the very novel Coronavirus that has engulfed the world. Lives have ended in hundreds of thousands. Sources of livelihoods have been shattered.

Taking measures

On that date, the global COVID-19 confirmed cases stood at 335,000. Of these, at least 14,641 had died. As of Wednesday, 27 May, 350,862 people are confirmed dead after contracting the virus. Over 2.9 million others are still hospitalised with the disease. On a happy note, over 2.3 million people have recovered from the virus, according to tracking studies by Johns Hopkins University.

With me and my three siblings all at home, my parents thought it wise to put in place measures given the alarming increase in the numbers of COVID19 cases, in order to safe guard all members of the household.

Among these was a must for any member of the household to wear a face-mask if they are to move out of home. Bathing for any person that had moved out of home before interacting with other family members was a must. And so was sanitising items bought from shops, shifting from the use of plastic utensils to use of glasses. Most interestingly yet still unrealised a measure by family members was the quiet and gradual resettlement of boys into personal rooms.

This measure remains unnoticed since family members assume mum came up with it simply to check on personal hygiene.

Distancing

Initially all three of us boys were confined to one room, my parents too in their own, except for my sister and our maid that sleep each in a room of their own. With most of us boys embracing the aspect of privacy and often in our rooms, a certain degree of distancing was achieved, now that congestion in one room most of the day was no longer the issue.

Our seven roomed house was now altered in a bid to ensure distancing. The garage and dining rooms have since been turned into bedrooms to ensure effective distancing.

Housing, social distancing and staying at home

Unlike my family that may be in position to put in place some of the guidelines of social distancing, majority of households cannot implement some of these guidelines. An average home in Uganda is a single room, at most two rooms. How do you ensure social distancing in such an environment? Many homes do not have constant access to water to wash hands frequently.

The National Housing Policy 2016 estimates that Uganda has about 7.3 million households living in 6.2 million housing units with an average household size of 4.7 persons.  The same policy puts the housing backlog, the under provision in housing that accrues against previous development plan targets, at 2.1 million units. This means at least 2.1 million housing units are needed but not available.

With four or five people living in two rooms, how does one practice ‘physical distancing’ in case there is need to?

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