Have A Friend Who Isn't Taking Social Distancing Seriously? Here's What To Say.

by Kaitlyn Wylde
Originally Published: 

Despite the fact that the President and the World Health Organization (WHO) have urged people to stay home and flatten the curve, you might have someone in your life who refuses to practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. While keeping at least six feet away from others is encouraged, it's not legally enforced. And that's where your words come in. Below are five arguments against social distancing and how to respectfully argue against them, according to medical practitioners, an economist, and a psychologist.

When you get into a conversation with someone who has opposing world views, it's important to remember your objective: you're there to inspire them to open their mind, not to make them feel bad. Psychotherapist Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D suggests finding out what's important to the person you're talking to, and making your argument in their interest. "Listen, don't be ideological — seek what that person values and then help them see how coronavirus could endanger that," he explains. And don't forget that a lot of what you see online is for show. "It's posturing, so try to talk to people directly if possible," Dr. Rubin says. In other words, opt for a private exchange, not a public Twitter war.

Argument # 1: But coronavirus doesn't make younger people that sick.

On March 9, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that people in the U.S. who are over the age of 60 and/or live with underlying health conditions "have enough household items and groceries so that you will be prepared to stay home for a period of time." People who believe themselves to be in the low risk population might interpret that recommendation as an invitation to be out and about. But the reality is that we are all at risk of contracting and/or spreading coronavirus. Though people who are over the age of 60 or have underlying health issues might be affected by the virus most severely, people in the low risk population can also be affected, and transmit the disease to others without knowing it.

  • France's director general for health, Jerome Salomon, told CNN on March 15 that out of 300 serious cases in intensive care in France, more than 50% of people are under 60.
  • According to a study published by JAMA, a quarter of Italy's most serious cases of coronavirus are in adults younger than age 50, too.
  • In California, there have been over 180 cases detected in patients over 64 years of age, versus more than 390 cases for patients under 64.
  • In Colorado, more than 50% of the cases are patients under the age of 50 — almost 40% of which are in their 20s and 30s.

Argument #2: If you're not sick, you can't spread coronavirus.

According to Dr. Lou Malinow, MD, ASH, and member of Persona Nutrition Medical Advisory Board, "if it were easy to look at someone and know whether they were contagious then it would be easy to avoid coming in close contact." The issue with coronavirus is that a large percentage of those transmitting the virus to others have no symptoms or only very minor symptoms. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and CDC adviser, told CNN that infected people without symptoms are actually one of the biggest contributors to the coronavirus outbreak's reach.

  • According to the Imperial College London's estimates, the Ro for coronavirus is between 1.5 and 3.5. This means that a single infected person could infect that many people.
  • A new study from University of Massachusetts Amherst, calculates that the median incubation period for COVID-19 is just over five days and that 97.5% of people who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of infection.
  • You can spread the coronavirus during the incubation period. According to the study from University of Massachusetts Amherst, more than 10% of patients are infected by somebody who has the coronavirus but does not yet have symptoms.
  • Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist, tells Bustle that the sooner we distance ourselves for the next few weeks, the quicker the steep curve of new cases flattens and we have this behind us.

Argument #3: Canceling my vacation because of coronavirus doesn't support the economy.

According to Dr. Paul J. Zak, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, there's both a biological reason and an economical reason to cancel your vacation plans.

  • Biologically, coronavirus carriers not showing symptoms can infect others, unknowingly. "During travel people congregate in restaurants, beaches, and pools, all of which accelerate this effect," Dr. Zak tells Bustle. Read: you can't socially distance yourself and travel at the same time.
  • Economically, he explains that while travel may "prop up jobs in the short term," this situation could last through mid-summer, and the infection rate is still rapidly increasing. Taking that vacation will have little effect in the medium term so let business and the government worry about bailouts.
  • Refusing to cancel that vacation because you're "trying to help the economy" just isn't an excuse. "Economies grow and contract, that's what they do, and the few people taking vacations will have no effect on the overall economy," Dr. Zak says.

And it doesn't just come down to infecting others. According to Dr. Sonpal, as disappointing as it is to lose your money, it’s worse to risk your health, and in severe cases, potentially even your life.

  • Though some cruise lines are changing their policies, many are not offering a full refund. But don't let that tempt you to hop on the boat. According to Dr. Sonpal, a cruise is the worst possible breeding ground for a virus like COVID-19. If one person is diagnosed on the ship, not only are you at risk of catching it, you risk being quarantined.
  • If you preserve your health now, you will have plenty of opportunities to see the world when we recover from this pandemic.

Argument #4: You shouldn't give into fear — we'll all get coronavirus anyway.

Actually, in this case, you should give into rational fear. According to Dr. Rubin, you have to have perspective and find the line between prudence and irrational panic. Whether you personally end up contracting the virus or not, this is a big deal.

Argument #5: You're after one last hurrah, and you'll stay home when the coronavirus situation gets worse.

If you stay home, you can have many future hurrahs. If you ignore warnings and recommendations, you could catch the virus and give it to someone else, who could be severely affected by it. According to Dr. Rubin, that kind of mentality is actually a sign of fear and denial, even though it just looks like carelessness.

"Instead of feeling scared, some people want to minimize the threat," Dr Rubin explains, pointing out that if it's harder to handle your feelings, you might try to get around them. It's called non-identification. "It's just a game you play with yourself when you are frightened," he says. "It's an understandable, but flawed strategy to deal with challenge of living."

  • Your quest to see the world in the middle of a pandemic could indirectly prohibit others from seeing the world ever again. If you are young and low-risk, staying home and practicing social distancing is the best way to provide yourself with a future that involves travel and other joys.
  • The EU has banned all non-essential travel for 30 days.
  • As of March 19, The Department of State issued the highest level travel advisory for anyone planning to visit a different country. Level 4 "advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19," according to the State Department's site.

Where to find more facts about social distancing and coronavirus:

The best arguments in support of social distancing, in summary:

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.


Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D, Psychotherapist, Author.

Dr. Lou Malinow, MD, ASH, and member of Persona Nutrition Medical Advisory Board

Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, New York-based internist and gastroenterologist.

Dr. Paul J. Zak, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies.

Studies Cited:

Holshue, M. L., Guan, & Liu, W. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1: NEJM. Retrieved from

Lauer, S. A., Grantz, K. H., Bi, Q., Jones, F. K., Zheng, Q., Meredith, H. R., … Lessler, J. (2020). The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of Internal Medicine. doi: 10.7326/m20-0504

Livingston E, Bucher K. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Italy. (2020). JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.4344 from

Mizumoto K., Kagaya K., Zarebski A., Chowell G. (2020). Estimating the asymptomatic proportion of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Yokohama, Japan, 2020. Euro Surveillance.

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