Animals social distance to avoid disease

Our face-to-face and in-person interactions have been severely reduced to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s been challenging and feels wrong to be separated from other people – humans are social beings for the most part. Yet despite how unnatural it may feel, distancing is very much a part of the natural world.

Lobsters, monkeys, fishes, insects and birds detect and distance themselves from sick members of their species.This “behavioral immunity” is common and helps social animals survive. Wild animals do not have vaccines, but they can prevent disease by how they live and act. Animals that social distance during an outbreak are the ones most likely to stay alive. They also use distancing to protect their most valuable or the most vulnerable of their group.

When lobsters detect an afflicted animal, they are willing to take considerable risks to stay disease-free. Healthy animals often abandoned safe havens for open waters, where they were at much higher risk of getting eaten when an infected lobster is sharing their den. Ants in fungus-exposed colonies strategically social distance depending on their role within the colony. Healthy ants in fungus-treated colonies also strongly reduced their social interactions preventing them from inadvertently putting colony members at risk.

When it comes to stopping novel diseases like COVID-19 tried-and-true behaviors such as social distancing are our best tools until vaccines or treatments can be developed. But just like other animals, we have to be strategic about it.

So as some states are starting to open up and lift restrictions and you do decide to go out and about, travel, or otherwise be around people, here are some tips and strategies on how to help mitigate COVID-19 risks.

  • Avoid other people as much as possible.
  • Avoid public transportation. Drive directly to your destination, with minimal stops.
  • If you must fly, do it more safely: While everyone aboard a plane should wear a mask, your energies are better spent keeping six feet from others in airport lines.
  • Dr. Farley Cleghorn, the global health practice head at Palladium, an international impact consultancy firm, suggests choosing a window seat as far from the restroom as possible and keeping the overhead vent open and toward your face (continuous airflow creates a small, invisible ‘wall’ that slightly restricts the exhaled air from other passengers).
  • You don’t need to glove up to pump gas or shop for groceries. As soon as you touch something, gloves are just as dirty as your hands would be. Just disinfect your hands afterward (washing with soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer).
  • Read on for tips about where to stay, where to eat and what to do if you do get sick while traveling.

If going out or traveling, consider what that will entail others to have to do for you. “Using a hotel or holiday rental creates the need for check-in and housekeeping services. When I travel, I want restaurants and food service. If I fly, I must clear security and board a plane with a full crew.” The science says if we wear masks, practice distancing, and limit our movement, we can get coronavirus under control.

Lobsters, ants, birds, monkeys and other animals understand the purpose and benefit of physical distance and protecting themselves (and others) from deadly infections. Let’s be the ant – let’s do what we need to do to protect each other and to do what’s best for our colony in a thoughtful, strategic way.

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