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Canadian Journal of Public Health


Springer New York LLC

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Though not a new term, “social distancing” exploded onto the global stage as an expression to publicize the only means currently available to control the transmission of COVID-19. This term is increasingly being adopted and translated into the vernacular to inform and guide public behavior in most, if not all, countries around the world. However, any effective global response requires direct and unambiguous communication and sharing of ideas across communities with different cultural backgrounds as well as between researchers and responders across the disciplinary spectrum. Unfortunately, social distancing is a misnomer. The current use of social distancing – separating ourselves physically to avoid infection – is not consistent with what the term actually means. Consequently, as a diktat, social distancing is not self-explanatory, conceptually ambiguous, practically misleading, and intellectually misplaced. To highlight these problems, we present arguments from multiple perspectives, calling governments, public health officials, and the media to abandon the use of social distancing, replacing it with more intuitively accurate and meaningful terms. Such a move would ensure clear consistent messaging that is critical to retain public trust especially during global public health crises.


This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Canadian Journal of Public Health. The final authenticated version is available online at: