48. When in Romania
A little bitty look into social distancing and social norms and maybe an insight or two.
My wife must’ve been Romanian in a previous life.
When we’re in normal times (which, for clarity, is not now), she gets all ants-in-her-pantsy when she’s standing in line at a store and the person behind her is standing less than a shopping cart distance away. She likes having more personal space than your average American. Hence the Romanian connection.
When it comes to everyday social distancing, Romania wins. Their culture leans towards more personal space than any other country. On average, Romanians tend to stand 4.6 feet away from strangers (according to this article).
On the opposite side of the personal space spectrum are Argentinians, in which a mere 2.5 feet is the average social distance they maintain from strangers. Compared to Romanians, the Argentinians are practically standing on strangers feet.
The United States falls closer to the closer side of the spectrum. On average, we feel most comfortable maintaining a distance of 3.1 feet away from strangers.
We don’t think about it - it’s just inherent in our behavior. When we’re in line at the store, when we’re at a party, when we’re on a tram at the airport, we are, on average, 3.1 feet away from the other people around us.
Interesting right? I thought so too.
But let's keep moving forward here, shall we.
Open For Business
As you may have heard, states like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have begun to open up businesses and lift some restrictions.
They are each doing it differently, but in some cases (coughLasVegascough) it involves not setting any social distance requirements and in other cases (achgeorgiaoooo!) it means the opening of gyms, movie theaters, restaurants, massage parlors and other places where germs go to party.
People have mixed feelings about the tactics of these states but, as with most risky decisions, the governors and mayors will either emerge as the brightest crayons in the Crayola box, or as a cluster of burnt siena crayons melted to the jeans after a trip through the washer-dryer (which is really bad in the world of crayon analogies).
The Good News
Regardless of politics, there are a few things I like about the tactics that these states and cities are taking.
If we don’t try something new, we’ll never know if it will work. Right or wrong, they’ve dared to try.
It has sparked more meaningful conversation over what business can look like once we emerge from our homes
It gives us hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a virus carrying freight train.
I’ve said before that I don’t think endurance events will happen until 2021. Let me clarify my words. I don’t think large-scale events, as we've been used to, will be occurring anytime soon. I don’t think we’ll see any mass gatherings this year where thousands of people are piled upon one another in mass start mayhem.
However, I do think participatory events may very well happen this year. Most likely they'll happen in a different way than we've ever done before, but they'll happen.
Take a Bucharest
I promise I’ll get back to Romania in a minute. Stick with me, little buckaroo.
The Risk of Release
Emerging from a pandemic is a little like being a turtle. One day you’ll wake up, peek your head out of your home and start moving slowly forward. But at the first sign of danger, you’ll retreat back into your home and stay there until it’s safe. It takes awhile to progress down the road and to feel secure being outside, but eventually you get there and, hopefully, you remain healthy on the way.
I trust we will all be let out of our homes in the coming weeks. I trust some businesses will be allowed to open up throughout the country. I trust that people will exercise and want to participate in events. I also trust that social distancing requirements should and will remain intact.
The thing about pandemics is that, if it’s going to come back and hit us again, it’s not going to happen immediately. It may take weeks for a second round to rear it’s virus-y face. Meaning, we could be lulled into a sense of security and then - WHAMO! - we’re in a worse position than we are now.
The best way to stop the spread of any disease is via herd immunity. Herd immunity is when enough of the population is immune to a disease (the herd) that it stops or slows the spread to others. There are two ways to become immune:
- Get a vaccination
- Contract the disease so you’re immune to getting it again
With the regular flu (influenza) you only need about 40% of the population to be immune in order to slow the spread. With ebola, it’s about 60% of the population.
On the faster spreading side, 86% of the population needs to be immune in order to stop a massive smallpox outbreak (hence the vaccine). One of the most contractable diseases is the measles, where 95% of population immunity is required (hence again, the vaccine).
We are not going to achieve Herd Immunity for COVID-19 anytime soon. Why? There are a few reasons:
We don’t have a vaccine and won’t have one for months/years
COVID-19 requires 70% of population immunity to achieve herd immunity
It appears only <1% of the US population has had the disease. We’re 69% short of the projected herd immunity floor.
What It May Look Like
Listen, though I love Bill Nye as much as the next person, I'm no scientist by any means. However, my entire point of this is that, until we can find the COVID cure, the social distancing requirement isn’t going away anytime soon. We need to stay clear of each other to ensure we don’t spread the disease.
So let's talk about your events. How can you put on an endurance events that requires 6+ feet of space? It’s definitely possible.
We're going to talk about this in another piece, but here are some ideas I’ve heard to get you started:
Give an option for shipping of bibs/bags
Create social distancing lines outside of your expo
Have rolling starts instead of mass starts (give people their own start time)
Masks required during pre-race and post-race
Deferrals for sick people
Social distancing requirements/penalties during the event
No in-person post-race activities. Encourage people to leave after the event and have a virtual post-race event
Purell for everybody!
Again, there’s a lot more to this that I’ll talk about in another note. Suffice to say, changes will have to be made in order to ensure we maintain our social distance.
And this brings us right back to Romania (see, I told you we’d get there).
Social Distancing Norms
As mentioned above, it doesn’t require any thinking for us to keep our average 3.1 foot distance from strangers. It’s part of our culture. It’s part of who we are as Americans.
It requires a bit more thought to maintain a 6 foot distance from others. We are doing it now and, honestly, it’s not overly challenging when there are so few people on the sidewalk or in the stores.
So what about when almost everybody is out and about again?
Maintaining six foot distance from others will require a lot more focus and mental energy for us Americans and our Argentinian friends than it does for, say, Romanians and my wife.
(Editor's Note: The COVID death rate in Romania is 16% lower than the rest of the world. Coincidence? I think not.)
Heck, the average width of a grocery store aisle is 5 feet. Simply to pass somebody in the aisle, you need to disobey social distancing requirements. When there are 10 people in the aisle and one of them just coughed, what do you do?
Remaining focused on the social distancing requirements will be hard. It will be mentally and emotionally draining. It may be frustrating to maintain. It will be so easy to believe everything is fine and get lulled back into our 3.1 feet.
That’s where we, as endurance event professionals, come in to play.
As we plan for what our events will look like in the coming months, I implore us to make social distancing more than a request. We need to make it a requirement - with accountability and enforcement - until such time when scientists tell us it's ok.
We need to get back outside. But we need to understand that, until a vaccine is created and deployed to the masses, we are all still at risk.
Our entire job is to be experts in large public gatherings. We are leaders in creating safe mass gatherings.
As such, one of the most important elements of our jobs is simply to create and enforce the requirements that ensure the safety and health of everyone associated with our events. Safety and health were priority before and that should remain. It just is going to look 6 feet different.
If there's nothing else to think about right now, it's how to put on your event with a six foot spread.
While you're thinking about that, the International Institute for Race Medicine and World Athletics have joined forces to think about it too. They are putting together medical best practices. I can’t wait to see that. Other organizations are also uniting to create operational best practices . I can’t wait for that to get going too.
I’ll fill you in with more as soon as I have it.
It’s time for all of us to be part of the solution.
As for me, I can’t wait to register for my next event.