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May 10, 2006 Volume 6, Issue 19
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Social Distancing for Pandemic Flu


It's time we all began to take seriously the warning about a possible influenza pandemic. Whether or not your organization has a plan, you can do much to reduce your own chances of infection, and the chances of mass infection, by adopting a set of practices known as social distancing.

When or if pandemic influenza develops, it will happen because some of the viruses that hopped from bird to human will have evolved to be efficient at hopping from human to human. In a pandemic, most people who are infected will be carrying virus they acquired not from birds, but from other people.

A broadcast-only sporting event during a pandemic

During a pandemic, as part of social distancing, sporting events might be for broadcast only. In-person attendance will be suspended.

And when pandemic influenza passes, it will pass because that virus can no longer find new people to infect. Either we'll have a vaccine, or people will have developed a post-exposure immunity, or we'll have ways of avoiding exposure.

As of this writing, the prospects for a vaccine in quantity and in time to address the threat do appear to be dim. And because the survival rate among those already exposed is so low, it appears that the human immune system is no match for this virus.

Thus, our first two options aren't much to rely on. We have to think about that third option — avoiding exposure. Social distancing is part of that approach.

Social distancing minimizes
the kind of contact that
enables flu virus transmission
Social distancing minimizes the kind of social contact that enables virus transmission. One example of a social distancing practice is limiting functions that require assembling many people into a single indoor space, such as all hands meetings and benefits fairs. Here are some examples of social distancing practices that you can adopt at work as an individual.

Avoid handshakes
Handshaking as a customary greeting enables virus transmission through skin-to-skin contact. Substitute something else — smile, wave, or bump elbows.
Avoid the lunchroom rush
Whether you eat lunch in the employee dining room or at a restaurant, avoid the rush, and the hour immediately following. Eat earlier or later, or eat with just a few people in a conference room or large office.
Substitute telemeetings for face-to-face meetings
Reducing the number or duration of face-to-face meetings reduces the opportunity for virus transmission. Shift as much of the agenda as possible to email or teleconference.
Use larger conference rooms
If you must meet face-to-face, use the largest available conference room. Larger rooms have better ventilation, and there's more room to spread out.
Avoid using public pens
Public pens are found at the retail counter, at the building or hotel guest registration, at the bank, in the benefits office, and many other places. Use your own pen. In conference rooms, don't use the public whiteboard markers. Carry your own.
Avoid the commuter rush periods
If you commute via public transportation, take advantage of your employer's flex time policy to shift your working hours. Avoid times when you'll be exposed to crowds.

Over the next months, you'll pick up lots more tips for social distancing. Send them to me and I'll spread them around. Go to top Top  Next issue: My Right Foot  Next Issue
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101 Tips for Preparing for Pandemic FluIs your organization fully prepared for pandemic flu? Do you have new products scheduled for release in the next eighteen months? Have you considered what a pandemic event might do to your plans? For some novel ideas for making your organization pandemic-resistant, check out my tips book 101 Tips for Preparing for Pandemic Flu.

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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