EDITORIAL: Social Distancing Required, Emotional Connections Needed

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has spread across the globe like wildfire. First in China, then in Italy, before skipping around the world to the U.S., where the country is now on fire with new cases reported daily, thousands of deaths and a nation on lockdown, or mitigation, as the experts prefer to call it.

State and local leaders are racing to microphones for morning and evening press conferences, calling for changes in the social habits of their constituents and the American people as a whole. It’s unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Yet, we gathered in mass at grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies and gas stations, in long lines, next to or closely behind one another, preparing for Armageddon.

With all of the toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, hand soap and face masks bought off the shelves, the American people are also being asked to hunker down in their homes and self-quarantine and practice “social distancing.”

What is social distancing? Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, defined it as “deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid illness.” The recommended distance is six feet away. It’s a necessary requirement to slow the rate of infections, but as two network television hosts recently described, it has created many awkward situations. When two or more individuals are gathered in an elevator, a restroom, or any other small quarters, it is agreed that they stay far apart, but does it also mean that everyday pleasantries must be abandoned? Is it also forbidding to say, “Hello?”

In an interview published in Scientific American, scientist Matthew Lieberman made the case that “our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water.” We left the shelves empty of non-perishable items and we are now being required to empty our souls of social and emotional connections.

As human beings, we can’t let what may kill us deprive us of what will kill us — the absence of social and emotional connections. Most of us will survive this pandemic, and until it ends, we must find ways to stay connected to family and friends. We can’t allow our adherence to be self-quarantined and socially distant, deprive us of the emotional connections that would enable us to thrive. Social distancing must be seen as a temporary inconvenience at a time it is needed and not a permanent situation when this crisis has ended.

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