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MARCH 27, 2020 — Trending Clinical Topic: Social Distancing

This week, attention turned to an important strategy to “flatten the curve” of serious COVID-19 cases, making social distancing the top trending clinical topic. Efforts to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems by preventing too many severe cases of COVID-19 from happening at the same time have dominated recent news. In addition to the general guidance that has been provided to the public by groups such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical community has seen several important changes. More and more conferences have been postponed or outright canceled. Medical students have seen Match Day events canceled or moved online, and Step 2 testing has been delayed.

The experience of a “super spreader” in South Korea demonstrated the importance of adhering to social-distancing strategies. The South Korean government had contained its confirmed COVID-19 cases to just 30; however, the 31st patient refused to practice social distancing. She attended church, ate at a communal buffet, and continued her daily routine. As a result, thousands of confirmed cases were in clusters linked to patient 31

With so many restrictions and unease in many communities, physicians and health systems are being called on to help reduce fear around COVID-19 and the prevention strategies that are being implemented. Peter M. Yellowlees, MBBS, MD, chief wellness officer for the University of California, Davis, urges doctors to make sure they are getting quality information, following all infection control protocols, promoting public health responses, and practicing social distancing themselves.

Understanding the distinctions between self-quarantine, self-monitoring, and social distancing is also key for medical professionals to make recommendations to patients. Global estimates suggest that COVID-19 cases have already topped 1 million, with many cases so mild that people may not realize that they are infected. Experts say that this only underscores the importance of adhering to mass mitigation strategies. The Washington Post recently published a simulator that compares the potential effects of different mitigation approaches.

Medscape’s resource center is continually updated with the latest coronavirus information. The ongoing pandemic will continue to dominate the news for the near future, with different aspects likely to become future top trending clinical topics.

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