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Most people became aware of social distancing when guidelines and restrictions related to reducing the spread of the coronavirus circulated worldwide. In a New York Times piece, Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer tell the origin story of the concept of social distancing—a story that began about a decade and a half ago when George W. Bush, concerned by bioterrorism, requested research to ensure that the United States would be prepared in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease.
When Department of Veterans Affairs physician Dr. Mecher and oncologist and White House advisor Dr. Hatchett presented their research on previous pandemic outbreaks, they received what Dr. Mecher politely describes as an "ugly" response.
"When they presented their plan not long after, it was met with skepticism and a degree of ridicule by senior officials, who like others in the United States had grown accustomed to relying on the pharmaceutical industry, with its ever-growing array of new treatments, to confront evolving health challenges," explain Lipton and Steinhauer. Despite resistance, the Bush administration and the Centers for Disease Control adopted the Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions or NPI as official policy.