Home Contributors Westchester Dr. Damon DelBello: Social distancing, is it really possible?

Dr. Damon DelBello: Social distancing, is it really possible?

I was made to stand in the heavy rain for a half an hour waiting to get into a store. They only allowed one person in at a time. That was good I thought, they were really keeping to the rules of social distancing. Then I received my exchanged item and had to sign for it.

I had to pick up the pen that everyone that day also picked up and I had to use the keypad that everyone else used that day, thereby picking up the germs of all those who touched those things before me.

At the end of the day, we all exchanged our germs on the keypad and pen, so why did we have to stand in the rain and make a pretense of distancing.

Many of us are trying to do our part and distance. Some do their best while still working at essential businesses. Some try to stay home and come out only for essentials and exercise. But most will inadvertently contaminate a surface or touch a contaminated surface despite their good intentions.

It is only those of us who are trained in and practice sterile technique who can consistently keep our hands to ourselves and not cross contaminate.

The next time you’re out observe those around you and take note of your own behavior.  Watch the grocery clerk take her gloved hand and touch her face and then pack your bag.  Go touch the credit card key pad after the previous 100 customers have done the same.  Then open the door with your hand and go to the gas station and fill up your car. Go to the bank and get some cash. All of these represent breaks in technique that cause contamination of surfaces and each other.

The measures that we need to begin practicing are somewhat similar to the sterile measures we use in surgical procedure areas.

The procedure site is sterilized with cleansers and then not touched with anything other than sterile gloves or instruments. Staff don sterile gowns and gloves in such a way so as not to contaminate them. Then they have learned how to move around the room and do their job without touching anything that is not sterile so that they do not contaminate their sterile gloves and gowns. 

Unless we strictly quarantine ourselves, interact with no one and keep our hands in our pockets, it is virtually impossible not to spread or pick up virus.

Our distancing measures would certainly be more productive if we also taught some basic techniques, including how to use gloves and how to care for these constantly touched surfaces. The techniques are simple and it requires a level of awareness and vigilance more than anything else. 

Damon DelBello, MD, is section chief of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at Westchester Medical Center, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. He is also assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at New York Medical College.


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