We Must Physically Distance Ourselves But Not Socially Too

In a blow to the already crippled moral of the American public, President Trump revealed on Sunday, March 29 that social distancing guidelines will remain in effect until at least the end of April. This announcement is devastating for all Americans, who are eagerly anticipating any good news from the nation’s leaders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just last week, Trump floated the possibility that these restrictions could be lifted as soon as Easter (April 12), allowing non-essential employees to return to work and areas of social gathering to open up once more. However, this suggestion came under fire by medical experts, including long-serving NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who warned that prematurely pulling back would “[accelerate] or rebound,” the national rate of infection. 

Since social distancing policies have been put into place, life as the world once knew has come to a screeching halt. With the unemployment rate skyrocketing, and businesses across the country being forced to temporarily close their doors, the economy has been absolutely decimated. Likewise, tens of millions of students will be finishing their spring semesters confined and restricted in their own homes, rather than in the company of their teachers and peers.

According to CNN, at least 30 states, including the District of Columbia, will have formal stay at home orders in effect, impacting more than 225 million people, approximately two-thirds of the national population. While Trump was slow to prioritize the containment of COVID-19, brushing the pandemic off as no more than a bad spell of the flu season, he has, however, begun to publicly acknowledge the severity this disease poses to the entire world.

The President’s own advisers are suggesting “as many as 200,000 people could die from the virus even if the country [takes] aggressive action to slow its spread.” Therefore, Trump had little choice but to accept that these current guidelines must remain in effect for the foreseeable future. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine has defined social distancing as “deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness,” while also adding that “staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19.” While this may be an adequate defensive strategy for people to use in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus, there are growing concerns about the toll this could take on a person’s physiological and mental well being.

According to the Economic and Social Research Council, based in the United Kingdom, “social isolation has long been known as a key trigger for mental illness,” and that “supportive relationships with friends, family and neighbors are beneficial to the mental health of individuals and the population.” During this particular time of high stress and anxiety, social relationships are more important than ever, and enclosing oneself into complete isolation can be a traumatic experience. 

Fortunately, virtual interaction is highly common and accessible in 2020. Video conferencing apps such as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom can provide people with face to face interaction without the risk of physically being in close proximity to one another.

The term social distancing is rather misleading, as it suggests people must cut themselves off from their relationships as well. Instead of social distancing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has begun to promote a new phrase, “physical distancing,” as a replacement. While maintaining physical separation between people amidst the pandemic is “absolutely essential” according to health experts, “it does not mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, [and] from our family.”

Daniel Aldrich, the Director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University in Boston, fears that the phrase social distancing is giving off the wrong message to the American public, claiming that “you need to have as close social ties as possible when physical distancing is in effect.”

It could be several months until physical separation policies are lifted and people can once again socialize in person. But for the time being, it is imperative that everyone plays their part in the worldwide effort to end this pandemic as quickly as possible, and stay home. That, however, does not mean that everyone must be confined to a newly reclusive lifestyle without any sort of social interaction.

Feel free to call, text, and use video conferencing programs to communicate with loved ones, as it is imperative that in this present state of uncertainty and fear, that everybody stay connected to preserve their spirits.

Peter Koenigsbauer