As noted in the CNN article “Forget ‘social distancing,’” the WHO and other health experts would prefer that the term “physical distancing” would be used to describe what we have all been doing, staying home, avoiding large gatherings, six feet distance, etc. The intent is that a move away from the term “social distancing” would highlight that it is still very important to be socially connected, while we also need to be physically distant from each other.
Lori Peek, Director of the Natural Hazards Center here at IBS, was asked to comment on this change, and while she admires the WHO’s efforts to clarify that we still need social connection during this time, she worries about making the change to “physical distancing” at this moment in the pandemic.
“My main concern is that this switch in terminology—in the midst of the crisis—violates one of the key principles of effective risk communication, which is to ensure that there is clarity and consistency in messaging…" Lori Peek, as quoted in CNN’s “Forget ‘social distancing,’” article. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/15/world/social-distancing-language-change-trnd/index.html
Lori Peek gave the following full statement to CNN’s Harmeet Kaur.
“I deeply admire the WHO’s efforts to clarify that we need to maintain socially connected even as we are physically apart. That reasoning is based on sound social science. But we have now become familiar with the term “social distancing.” This represents a risk communication success, in that the public has learned the term and many are adjusting their behaviors accordingly and as possible. My main concern is that this switch in terminology—in the midst of the crisis—violates one of the key principles of effective risk communication, which is to ensure that there is clarity and consistency in messaging. I just don’t want to see members of the public become confused or frustrated during what is already such an uncertain and frightening moment for so many.” Lori Peek