Americans struggling to follow "stay at home" orders and keep their distance during pandemic

Cities struggle with social distancing
Cities struggle with social distancing 04:07

To help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Americans are being ordered to only leave their home for essential needs and stay 6 feet from other people when they do. But in crowded cities across the country, that's not always easy to do.

"You forget, and then you have to take a step back," said Matt Zender in Seattle.

Zender said he was initially surprised by grocery store policies to help keep customers at a distance. Several major chains are limiting the number of people allowed inside. Others are adding visual cues like taped squares on the floor to space out customers waiting in line or placing large crates in front of registers to keep people away from cashiers, CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan reports.

"It's so helpful if we can implement policy controls and environmental controls that help people alter our behavior," said Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.

The other key to social distancing in cities is timing, Cannuscio said.

"If we need to go out for exercise, we need to try to do that at times when the public parks or paths are not very busy. If we need to go to the grocery store, we should try to either order ahead and just pick up the groceries or to go at non-busy times," she said.

If you can, experts say to buy enough groceries for several days to minimize the number of trips you take to the grocery store.

Another major problem is people simply ignoring orders to stay home. Crowds at Los Angeles beaches, Bay-area hiking trails and New York City parks have prompted officials to add new restrictions.

"I think people are definitely taking advantage of going to the beach and still congregating in groups, which now in turn kind of ruined it for the rest of us," said Leah Pablo in Los Angeles.

Andrew Wowk saw the same problem in Philadelphia while walking his dog.

"I start to see more and more people in parks together, not really holding on to that six feet away rule at all," he said.

Cannuscio reminds people that outside of their home, they should have as little contact as possible with others.

"I think people let their guard down when they see people who are familiar to them. So they may think, 'Okay, I'm going to avoid strangers, but they don't hesitate to visit the homes of friends,'" she said. "Familiarity does not confer protection."