Materials in Motion

Coronavirus: Government, Businesses, and Social Distancing

The novel Coronavirus—the virus that causes the disease COVID-19—was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. The virus has continued to spread around the world, and the number of confirmed cases of the virus has increased exponentially in the United States.

To combat the spread of the virus, many schools began to close and transition to online learning. Eventually, states required all public and private schools to do the same. These school closures became some of the earliest forms of the practice known as social distancing on a large scale. Since then, social distancing has become one of the primary methods for containing the virus.

Social distancing is essentially the idea that individuals should increase the physical distance between each other and avoid face-to-face interaction as much as possible. People are encouraged to stay home; many sport events, cruises, and other large gatherings have been canceled; and many public places, such as parks, beaches, and libraries, have also closed to prevent gatherings of large crowds. Millions of people have also been encouraged to work from home if possible.


Now, many state governments are requiring non-essential businesses to close. Exactly which companies are required to close varies between states, but retail stores, restaurants, and similar businesses have been considered non-essential in many states. Other businesses, such as manufacturing and fabricating companies, may or may not be required to close depending on the specific policies of their state governments.

Regardless of whether or not the government has legally required your specific business to close, now is the time to make a decision about employee health that could affect the overall course of this pandemic. The virus spreads most rapidly by direct contact[1] with someone who is sick, and symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear[2], according to the CDC. These conditions make it easy for the virus to spread quickly among people in close proximity, which is why limiting contact through social distancing is an effective way to slow the virus down.


Right now, employers can help reduce the spread of the Coronavirus by allowing employees to work from home if they can, reducing office staff, limiting customer interaction, and many other social distancing practices. Currently, many employees who can work from home are doing so, and workers who could make the switch easily have been working from home for several weeks already. If your company can do the same, it can go a long way to protecting the public from COVID-19.

If we all take our role in preventing the spread of this disease seriously, we can all help “flatten the curve” of Coronavirus infections. This term refers to the rate of infection—if we choose to carry on as usual, we could see so many infections in a short amount of time that our healthcare infrastructure won’t be able to keep up. By practicing good social distancing, we can slow the rate of infection so that there are never too many cases at one time for our hospitals to handle.

Whether or not your business is required by the government to cease operations until it deems the closures no longer necessary, it is important to take the risks posed by the pandemic seriously. Until the pandemic is contained, we should all act in the interest of public health. Working from home, if possible, is one simple way we can help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and protect ourselves as well as our neighbors, coworkers, and communities.