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13 True Stories That Show What Happens When You Don’t Social-Distance

Before you dismiss the guidelines as silly or unnecessary, read this.

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Better safe than sorryGetty Images (2)

Better safe than sorry

Summer weather and reopening businesses have people celebrating the end of quarantine and a return to normalcy, but make no mistake: We may be done with coronavirus, but coronavirus isn’t done with us. Cases of COVID-19 are still rising all over the United States, and experts say that it’s more imperative than ever to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing. In fact, simply doing these two things is highly effective in reducing the spread of the virus and could make all the difference in stopping a second wave, according to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Need more convincing? Check out these examples of what can happen when you don’t.

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Birthday party guests all leave with an unfortunate gift

A group of 16 women headed to a Florida bar to celebrate their friend’s birthday. Once there, they saw a large crowd inside with no one wearing masks. “Standing there in front of those people, we knew we were pushing it,” Kat Layton said in an interview with CNN. But since they didn’t know anyone who was sick, they said they thought they’d be fine. Within days of the party, the friends started to feel ill, and all 16 were eventually diagnosed with COVID-19. Thankfully, none of the cases are severe at this time, but they all agreed that they should have heeded the warnings. “I feel foolish. It was too soon,” Erika Crisp said.

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Family members receive the worst type of surprise

All it takes is one infected person to wreak havoc on many. In another tale of a birthday celebration gone awry, multiple members of the same family in North Texas contracted COVID-19 from the host of a surprise 30th birthday party. The man didn’t know he was infected and instead thought his slight cough was a side effect of his construction job. Of the 25 people at the party, 18 got sick, including three who had to be hospitalized; one is still in intensive care. While the partygoers claimed that they’d done their best to maintain proper social distance from one another, at least one photo has emerged that shows the exact opposite—with people huddled together inside and without masks to take a smiling selfie.

One family member, an EMT who didn’t attend the party because he was concerned about the risks, has a message for others thinking of getting together in the time of COVID: “If you’re going to see family and they don’t live with you, mask up and keep your distance. I want everyone to be with their loved ones. I just want everybody to be cautious and not try to take pictures and selfies with a group of 20 people.”

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A woman gets banned from her favorite storeGetty Images (2)

A woman gets banned from her favorite store

Genevieve Peters went viral in mid-May after posting a video of herself throwing such a fit over being asked to wear a mask in a California Trader Joe’s store that police had to be called. She claimed the health risks of wearing a mask were greater than the risks of getting the virus. “There’s so much research that says we actually are in danger of having this mask, of breathing my own CO2,” she said in the video. One week later, she reported having symptoms of COVID-19, including a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.

This did not change her stance on masks, however. “Healthy people can get sick. It doesn’t mean the end,” she said in a second video. “Our body is equipped for that. It has what we call an immune system. So when I was feeling sick, I knew that all I had to do was boost my immune system.” She had no comment about the immune systems of the people she may have spread it to.

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A pool party went viralGetty Images (2)

A pool party goes viral—in all the wrong ways

Pictures of people partying at the Lake of the Ozarks resort over Memorial Day weekend left the rest of the country feeling both jealous and terrified. Partiers packed into pools and bars—sans masks. Several days later, one of the partygoers tested positive for the disease, with experts warning that the person was contagious at the time of the party. New cases linked to the event are still popping up (though, thankfully, there have been no reported deaths), but it does show that pools full of chlorine aren’t enough to protect people from spreading the virus. Make sure to avoid these 14 coronavirus mistakes this summer.

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PastorGetty Images (2)

A church is left without its beloved leader

Churches have been identified as a potential hot spot for virus spreading, and experts have recommended limiting religious gatherings or moving them online. Still, some religious leaders have been loath to shut down services. One such pastor, 66-year-old Gerald O. Glenn, the bishop and founder of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, told his church that he would keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.” There was a heartbreaking third option he hadn’t considered: He died a week later, after contracting COVID-19, his church said. These are the 13 everyday habits that could (and should) change forever after coronavirus.

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American Airlines bans a man from flyingGetty Images (2)

American Airlines bans a man from flying

Air travel is slowly coming back but with strict social-distancing guidelines, including mask wearing. One passenger, Brandon Straka, a conservative activist who has taken a political stand against masks, recently found himself with a tough choice to make: stand by his principles or make his flight? He opted not to wear the mask and was not only removed from the flight but also banned from flying on American Airlines. “I travel all the time and I’ve never worn a mask,” he told the New York Times. “My feeling was that the airline succumbed to mob mentality, which, I feel, is happening all over the place in our country right now.”

Mandatory mask wearing is just one of the ways that air travel may change after coronavirus.

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A mayor learns the importance of virtual meetingsGetty Images (2)

A mayor learns the importance of virtual meetings

The mayor of Surprise, Arizona, got an unpleasant surprise when he recently tested positive for COVID-19. Skip Hall, 74, says he isn’t sure how he got the disease, but Surprise is one of the few metro Phoenix cities in which council and staff members continued to meet completely in-person during the coronavirus pandemic, according to AZ Central. He reported that COVID feels “like a bad head cold with night sweats,” but he thankfully didn’t experience breathing issues or other complications. Find out how another coronavirus survivor describes how it feels to battle this illness.

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A church sets a scary new recordGetty Images (2)

A church sets a scary new record

The Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, near La Grande, Oregon, is responsible for the single largest outbreak of COVID-19 yet in the state. Of 365 church members tested, 236 are positive for the disease, meaning that more than 65 percent of the congregation has been infected, the state’s deputy epidemiologist told Oregon Public Broadcasting. The church held in-person worship services and other events in April and May, and Facebook videos (that have since been removed) showed congregants standing close together and not wearing masks while singing and praying.

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Fraternity brothers go through a new kind of hazingGetty Images (2)

Fraternity brothers go through a new kind of hazing

Frat parties aren’t exactly known for being safe, often encouraging dangerous drinking and sexual activities, but now they can add a new danger to the list: getting COVID-19. The state of Mississippi, which is experiencing a sharp increase in cases, reported that a large cluster of the new cases in Oxford have been linked to fraternity rush parties. Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer and a professor at the University of Mississippi’s medical school in Oxford, told CNN that adherence to social distancing over the summer break has been “overwhelmingly disappointing” and that he’s extremely concerned about what will happen when the school reopens in the fall. Speaking of which, here are 10 things you may no longer see in schools because of the pandemic.

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A barber puts himself in danger to give people haircutsGetty Images (2)

A barber puts himself in danger to give people haircuts

Getting a haircut has been a hot topic during the pandemic. It’s a small luxury that many people feel they can’t do without. So it’s not surprising that a Kingston, New York, barber decided to run an “illicit” barbershop during the quarantine. Sadly, it’s also not surprising that he ended up testing positive for COVID-19 while still continuing to see customers. “As much as we would all like to go out and get a professional haircut, this kind of direct contact has the potential to dramatically spread this virus throughout our community and beyond,” said Dr. Carol Smith, the county health commissioner, in a prepared statement.

Requiring masks during these haircuts, however, may have changed the outcome. In late May, two hairstylists at a Great Clips salon in Missouri were diagnosed with COVID-19, and even though they worked while symptomatic, they wore masks the entire time—and none of their customers contracted COVID-19.

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A world leader nearly diesGetty Images (2)

A world leader nearly dies

Perhaps the most famous example of a coronavirus 180-degree turnaround is U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Early in the pandemic, he downplayed the risks, doing photo ops maskless, while shaking hands and hugging people. He hesitated to institute a full lockdown, waiting until March 23. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 just a few days later. Johnson had major complications from the disease and was admitted to the ICU and remained gravely ill for two weeks. He told NPR it was “fifty-fifty” whether he would live or die. He survived and has used his experience as a warning to citizens to follow social-distancing measures, taking care to thank the medical workers who saved his life.

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A sheriff discovers the virus doesn't care about politicsGetty Images (2)

A sheriff discovers the virus doesn’t care about politics

Mark Lamb, the Sheriff of Pinal County in Arizona, made headlines when he refused to enforce social-distancing orders. “In tough times, tough decisions have to be made,” he said in an interview with Phoenix New Times in late April. “I’m looking at two laws in each hand [and] going with the one that’s 200 years old rather than two days old.” He then announced on June 16 that he tested positive for COVID-19 and that he likely got the disease at a campaign rally during which many other Arizonans were likely exposed. Arizona is one of the states with the fastest-growing number of cases. Don’t have a test available? Here are a few signs you may have (or may have already had) COVID-19.

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A wrestler grapples with a tough choiceGetty Images (2)

A wrestler grapples with a tough choice

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that the WWE was an “essential business” and was therefore exempt from following social-distancing guidelines. After all, staying six feet apart would ruin the whole point of wrestling. (Although we’re guessing the mask part wasn’t an issue!) Fans of the pro-wrestling company were thrilled, but the excitement was short-lived, as the WWE announced taping had to be shut down because one of the wrestlers had tested positive for COVID-19. The performer recovered, and the company continued on with its schedule for live shows.

For more about this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX and NBC.