We are social beings. We all need connection. Some of us more than others. This Social Distancing thing is urgently important so we can minimize the anticipated surge in cases of COVID-19 in our communities in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, the need to socially distance ourselves is not going to go away soon.
Social distancing is not the same as quarantine or self isolation. Those measures apply to people who are returning to Canada from international destinations, people who are symptomatic and awaiting COVID-19 test results, those who have had a COVID-19 diagnosis confirmed and people who have had direct contact with COVID-19 positive cases. These folks should not mingle at all with others for 14 days or until they are deemed cured.
Of course, if you are sick you should stay home, even if it is not COVID but is another Acute Respiratory Infection. This will minimize spread but also not lead to so many others getting a cold and then worrying it is COVID-19
All the rest of us need to practice Social Distancing. This means we minimize as much as possible close contact with others as well as follow all the other the routine advice for hand washing, elbow-sneezing, avoiding hugging or handshaking and not collecting in clusters of people.
I will share with you some practical strategies that I am adopting so I can comply with the need for social distancing over the next several weeks.
First of all, I will, at this point, go for walks outside. I need to get outdoors and have some exercise. We are lucky that spring is around the corner so we can actually get some fresh air. BUT that comes with the caveat that we must keep our distance from others. The advised two metres is best. I have a couple of friends who are also following the rules with whom I will meet periodically so we can smile at each other, have a bit of a laugh together and share some conversation. But we will work to maintain the required physical distance as best we can.
When I am out I don’t touch anything that I don’t need to touch. I don’t sit on a public bench, for example. I carry a small microfibre cloth in my pocket so if I have to open doors or carry a basket in the grocery store, I can use the cloth to make the contact. When I get home I throw it in the wash. (I have a pack of 5 that I got at Dollarama). If I can open a door using my elbow or hip or a push button or Key fob I do that rather than touch the handle. I am also putting my clothes in the laundry basket if I have been out somewhere during the day so I can start with fresh clean clothes every morning. Although the virus has been shown to live on plastic and metal for up to 72 hours, it can also remain viable on clothing or cardboard for a day or so. Better safe than sorry.
When I pass someone on the street I am attempting to say Hello or Good Morning even if they are strangers. It is always pleasant to be greeted and a brief verbal hello might just make someone’s day.
I will try to go to stock up on groceries at off-peak hours. I live only 10 minutes from my usual grocery outlet so I will walk there early in the morning or go in the last hour before closing to avoid the busiest times. We are being assured that generally the food supply will not be affected. The empty shelves that you may have experienced last week are the result of exceptional panicked buying and hoarding. It will take a while for those folks to use all that toilet paper they have in their garage so that will leave some for the rest of us when we need to buy it. Same with meat and pasta and rice and flour and… There will be food. Don’t panic. And while I am at it, I will extend our thanks to the people who are working to keep us supplied – clerks, shelf stockers, truck drivers, all of you. We need you and appreciate this service.
I will still see my family who don’t live with me from time to time. We will avoid hugging or touching and we will be careful to wash our hands or anything that we might have touched. We will keep our distance as much as practical. If any of us are sick at all we will self-isolate and not expose the others.
For example, I spent a couple of hours this morning with my 8-year-old granddaughter. Kids are scared. They know what is going on and they also know that their family and friends are scared too. We were able to have a great visit, taking extra care to avoid close contact, washing our hands after handling anything and playing interactive games that we streamed to the TV. We talked about COVID, how to look after ourselves and our worries. When she went home, we both felt infinitely better. She was happy and so was I.
I have been making a point of connecting with others both locally and internationally by using FaceTime or Messenger or Skype for audio/video chats. We need to stay connected. Text messaging is fine when we are busy and have the opportunity to interact face to face easily but a smile or the sound of someone’s voice does a lot to sooth that need for connection.
The economy is also taking a hit right now and where that leads is uncertain for all of us. We have enough to worry about now without being fussed about things we can not control. None of us know what the next month or six months or year will bring. It is futile to try to plan that far ahead right now so I am refusing to spend my energy trying to plan that far in advance or think about what situation I or, for that matter, the world, might be in by then. It is best to set priorities about what we need to do now. Currently my priority is to be responsible to my community, my friends and family and to myself so as to dodge as much as possible the immediate effects of COVID-19. Catastrophizing (is that a word?) is counter-productive and I will try to avoid going that route in my head.
There have been an absolutely phenomenal number of individuals, entertainers and groups that have reached out online to help us stay upbeat and mentally busy in our distancing mode. I have looked for those and will definitely join in to pass the added alone time. I will also break out a jig-saw puzzle soon.
This will pass. Unfortunately, the need to socially distance ourselves and the drastic disruption to our normal routine is going to last for weeks or even months. It will definitely get tiresome and I am afraid that it will be too easy to put these thoughts aside and let our guard down when the sun is shining and the weather is encouraging. In order for it to work, however, we will need to stay the course. Remember that it will take some time before we reap the benefits of this challenging change in our social interactions.
Hang in. Help others. Support each other.
John A Geddes MSc MD CCFP
March 20, 2020
Addendum: Six hours after I loaded this post, Balzac’s closed (along with other coffee shops like Starbucks.
Thank you Dr. Geddes. My daughter has been sending me your articles which I have found to be not only helpful but also comforting.
I am disappointed that you’re advocating to visit with family members who don’t live with you. People are using this to justify why they can meet with a friend for coffee or have small get-togethers. Most doctors and our health minister are saying don’t visit with anyone. Our prime minister said stay in your home unless absolutely essential. Your advice is irresponsible.
I appreciate your comment. I have struggled with this decision. My daughter is a single mom and a nurse. She is doing most of her work from home but a couple of days a week she will need to go in to her office. We will all be following the rules about careful physical distance and hand washing. If I don’t help her with child care for my 8 year old grandchild she will have to be at a place where there would be more contact with other strangers or neighbours who we don’t know are following the recommended advice. I have come to the conclusion that, for our family, the arrangement that we have decided upon whereby I will be the occasional required caregiver is the best solution for all of us. Nothing is perfect and I realize this but it is certainly the best we can do to maintain physical distancing from numerous other people. This is going to go on for a while and we have to make practical decisions that are as responsible as we can manage. I certainly agree that we need do whatever we can to reduce multiple outside contacts. Thanks for your opinion. It is valid.