My, my, my – how the world has changed in 2 weeks. As we adapt to the new normal, the new buzzword we are hearing about is “social distancing”. What is it and why is relevant during these times? Social distancing is the reduction of human contact through changes in behavior to reduce the transmission of a disease. (Reluga, 2010.) This is a non-medical method enacted by local and state governments for a specified period of time when disease or novel strains are in their infancy. Statistically, practicing social distancing flattens disease transmission so proper healthcare can be provided to those who need it and allows time for a permanent solution to be refined (i.e. vaccine). In concurrence with unpopular opinion, social distancing can be a positive amidst COVID-19 that has proven to be asymptomatic or mild for many. Keep in mind that even if you are not affected, you may still be a carrier of the virus to vulnerable population groups. Now consider for a minute why are some people reacting to the virus differently than others? We are all humans, but natural selection has created genetic variation that influences how our body’s respond when exposed to viruses. Natural selection is the increase in frequency of features in a population through environmental adaptation because it results in a more favorable chance of survival or reproduction. This means that genes that are more likely to survive and reproduce will be more common in an organism over time. An example of how this relates to COVID-19, let’s shift our focus to Africa and malaria for a moment – Research shows that in malaria prone areas genetic differences in humans lead to an increased chance of immunity. (Karlson, 2014). Immunity leads to survival, reproduction and natural selection ensues over those who are unable to fight it off. A true testament that being different is a blessing.
Restrictions on social distancing and shelter-in-place that have arisen from the lockdown in California and many other states have been reasonable to accommodate a balanced daily life while trying to control the spread. As an introvert I usually welcome a break from having to socially interact with people, but I understand that an imposed social distancing regulation is difficult for everyone especially families. We need to enjoy and take advantage of the opportunities to connect with others through Facebook Live’s and Zoom parties. In times of hardship, let’s learn to be patient, helpful and caring with one another.
Karlson, K. Eleanor et al. 2014. “Natural selection and infectious disease in human populations.” Nature Reviews Genetics. 15 : 379-393.
Katz, Rebecca et al. 2019. “Local Decision Making for Implementing Social Distancing in Response to Outbreaks.” Public Health Reports. 134(2) : 150-154.