UVM researchers studying ripple effects of social distancing

Published: May. 5, 2020 at 6:09 PM EDT
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How has the Stay Home, Stay Safe order impacted your life? Researchers at the University of Vermont want to know. Our Cat Viglienzoni has more on the goal of their study.

The stay-at-home order was made to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now, researchers are working to find out what impact that order had on people's social lives and on the spread of the virus.

"I haven't left my house much," Jackie Plunkett said with a laugh.

Plunkett's family goes on lots of walks in their Colchester neighborhood but they are strictly following the state's social distancing rules. And they say getting outdoors is key to surviving with their sanity.

"We like our outside time," Plunkett said. "Anytime we start to feel cooped up or claustrophobic, it's just-- let's go outside. I don't care if it's raining or it's cold, let's just go out there for a little bit and yeah, it's going. It's going."

For Danielle and Corey Juckett of Georgia, Vermont, it's similar. Their family goes on lots of walks but is careful to stay safe while shopping.

"You're really conscious about the six-foot rule. And that makes shopping a little harder and a little longer, but yeah, it's really different," Corey Juckett said.

Mom used to get the groceries. Now, it's dad's job.

"Now, he's going and we're going every two weeks and he's coming home and he's a lot more aware of the fact that he's been out because of her," Danielle Juckett said of their daughter. "So, he changes his clothes and washes his hands. So, it just changes your awareness of what you've done and who you've been around."

Tracking social adjustments and their impact is the goal of a study underway now from the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine.

"How do people-- how do they function compared to pre-COVID? Are they really behaving differently?" lead researcher Eline van den Broek-Altenburg asked.

Questions include personal information about the survey taker. It asks them how many people they've had contact since the stay home measures went in place and for how long, whether they've changed their behavior and what they think of the state's response to COVID-19.

The lead researcher says she has gotten some pushback from people they send the survey to, asking why she was asking these questions. She says it's not a project for the state of Vermont but the results will hopefully help track whether the state's measures made a difference with the coronavirus' spread.

"We can say that a lot of the results come from social distancing measures, but the question is, how much are people really social distancing and how is that really affecting the spread of the virus?" van den Broek-Altenburg said.

Right now, they're only sending the study out to a randomized set of people to see what the results say. In the future, they hope to make it something people can go fill out if they want to.