#KnowTheMath: Impact of Social Distancing

  • #KnowTheMath: Impact of Social Distancing

    March 2020

    In our current situations, we have been told to implement “social distancing” or more specifically physical distancing – being at least 6 feet apart or reducing or limiting the number of social contacts we have each day.

    The following simulation allows you to see the impacts of social distancing on the spread of a virus through the community. We start with just one person infected.

    Pandemic Applet

    Jump in!  Click Run Resultsto see a simulation for 25 people. 

    Click Recalculate Results and then Run Results to run a completely new simulation starting back with one infected person.

    We always start with just 1 person infected. Our baseline is

    10 days contagious,
    6% chance of contracting the virus in contact with a contagious person; a roughly 1 in 17 chance of contracting the virus on each contact.
    4 contacts per day.

    What we can control is the number of contacts per day. In this simulation every

    This is not a function, but a simulation!  So, you will need to run multiple times to get a trend.

    What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

    What happens when the size of the population increases?

    What happens if we increase the contacts just by 1 person to 5 per day?

    What happens if the number of contacts is reduced to three per day, two per day?

    What happens if we ignore social distancing and have 10 or more contacts per day?

    Could you find settings that might represent what it is like for health care workers?

    As you look across multiple simulations how does the size of the population matter?

    What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

    Math is a tool to make sense of our world, especially in times of dramatic change. Please share with your family, your kids, your neighbors, and your friends. We are all in this together. One thing is for sure...

    Social Distancing Matters!


    For Teachers!

    More resources for using math to make sense of our current situation can be found at