Last Saturday night, I had drinks with three of my friends. On the internet.
Instead of meeting up IRL, we opened our laptops and caught up on video chat—because social distancing is the responsible thing to do amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the CDC, "social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible." On March 15, the organization recommended canceling any event with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
Some may wonder why they'd need to stay home if they feel fine. Perhaps they're not worried because it seems to affect the elderly, immunocompromised people, and those with heart and lung disease most severely, per the CDC. But Idris Elba felt no coronavirus symptoms, the actor revealed, when he tested positive following exposure to someone who had it. People can carry the virus without symptoms, and potentially infect more vulnerable people around them without even knowing they had it.
By now, we've all learned how to protect ourselves from Covid-19 (wash those hands, don't touch that face, and disinfect your phone!). But according to public health experts, the best way to protect all of us is to stay home.
"Our problem is, we're living in a country where there’s not enough tests," says Diana Zuckerman, PhD, a public health expert and president of the National Center for Health Research, referring to the exceptionally low number of people tested in America thus far in comparison to other affected locations. Social distancing is a proven way to "flatten the curve," or slow the rapid exponential rise of the coronavirus in the U.S. As the Washington Post explained on March 13, if the number of cases kept doubling every three days, by May 2020 there would be about a hundred million cases in the United States.
The good news is that there's plenty of ways to stay connected while you're social distancing, from the Netflix Party extension that lets you watch movies virtually with your friends, to streaming yoga classes. These tips will help you keep your kids busy, and assist you with maintaining sanity while spending round-the-clock time with your spouse...and no one else, or remain calm if you're actually alone.
You can go outside—just remember the 6-foot rule.
When cabin fever sets in, Zuckerman says spending time outside is fine—IF, and only if, you're still maintaining a distance from others. Of course, if you're lucky enough to have outdoor space, the lawn is your oyster. For those in cities, consider a wide-open space like a park (if you've got kids, avoid playgrounds, even they're empty, as the virus can live on surfaces for up to several days).
Zuckerman says she still takes walks in areas that aren't populated. But, if you're jogging on a city park trail, basically alone, and a bicyclist inadvertently passes close by, she says not to worry. "If it's 4 feet away, and not 6, don’t feel like a failure. As long as the other person doesn't touch you, or sneeze within droplet distance."
You can go to the grocery store, too. BUT...
Keep in mind that it's harder to follow that 6-foot rule in there. Some stores, such as Albertsons, now have special shopping hours for the elderly and other vulnerable people. Still, Zuckerman recommends not going again until you really need to—to protect yourself, too. "Most of the time, it’s fine," she says. "But the people who are stocking the shelves may be infected and not know it yet. We shouldn’t use cash, and avoid anyone touching your card when you insert it."
Establish boundaries with your partner, so you don't drive each other nuts.
You and your spouse may adore each other's company, but being at home together 24/7 when tensions are generally running high is...a lot. Hanni Flaherty, PhD, LCSW, urges extra ongoing communication before a flicker of irritation flares into a spat. "It's important to remember that we can't read each other's minds, and anxiety reads differently for different people at different times," Flaherty says. "Even though we think we know our partners really well, we can misinterpret their anxious symbols—so when someone's seeming combative, it may be their anxiety."
Pro-tip for couples suddenly working from home together: Get yourselves an imaginary coworker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don't know what to do about her.— Molly Tolsky (@mollytolsky) March 16, 2020
If you're both working remotely, Flaherty recommends carving out personal space early on. For example, Flaherty created a home office corner. "This became my workspace," she says. "My husband put his computer on it to charge. I said, 'that can't happen.' It made me very anxious, because this needed to be my space! And he respected that, because that was my anxiety from the situation coming out."
That means asking for alone time when you need it, too (even if you have to hide from your family in the bathroom for a few), and not getting offended when your partner does the same.
For those with a more toxic or even abusive relationship dynamic at play during self-quarantine, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is currently keeping their shelters and their hotline open as a resource.
When survivors are forced to stay in the home or in proximity to their abuser, it can create circumstances where their safety is compromised, and they may need to alter their safety plan. #COVID_19 #DV pic.twitter.com/mrQtdOFQvb— National Domestic Violence Hotline (@ndvh) March 13, 2020
Have a Netflix party.
Download a new Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party. It syncs you and your friends' playback, so you can binge-watch together—and you get to keep all the popcorn for yourself. Check out the 10 most popular Netflix shows and movies right now for watch list inspiration.
Schedule virtual "dates" with friends.
If you have been practicing social distancing, you might already feel a little lonely—no surprise there, as most of us have been asked to switch up the routines we take for granted. "It's isolation, and that's hard," says Flaherty. "Technology can help minimize that isolation as best we can."
To video chat: Use tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype for much-needed laughs with friends. In these uncertain, anxiety-inducing times, Flaherty adds, "just knowing that we're not alone in this" is a big morale booster. Tech-averse? Pick up the phone and call a friend or family member—consider making it a regular standing date to look forward to.
Artists like John Legend are in self-quarantine, too, so he and dozens of other musicians are live-streaming concerts from home to keep you entertained.
Movies and TV:
Streaming platforms are our best friend right now—check out our roundup of the best ones out there. You can also rent a feature film that studios are releasing to watch on-demand, such as Emma or The Invisible Man.
Get a coronavirus workout plan.
Planet Fitness is offering free online exercise classes on their YouTube channel, and YouTube is a treasure trove for no-cost workouts.
LA's Modo Yoga is streaming classes daily for everyone, with a suggested donation of $5 or $10 via Venmo, for example, and check out our list of free yoga app recs. Every day seems to bring a new offering from our fellow cooped-up citizens.
Keep your kids engaged while they're at home.
Children home from school will miss their friends, babysitters, teachers, and grandparents very much, so video chat visits can be a regular part of the schedule. And while interactive streamed classes are preferable, if you need to put on a movie, that's okay. "I'm not going to promote screen time to children, but it's not the end of the world," Flaherty says.
When they're not rewatching Frozen 2 with their friends online, look for interactive streaming classes—and, of course, get creative. Apps like Playfully are full of fun activity ideas for when the littles are officially sick of couch forts.
Make time to process your feelings.
Consider writing in a journal which can help sort out your feelings (here are a couple of our favorite notebooks) or try meditating with one of these apps. "We always forget to breathe in crisis situations," says Flaherty.
Order delivery, if it's still available, but with caution.
There's zero evidence that the coronavirus is transmittable through food. But your delivery person doesn't have the privilege of working from home, so they're forced to come into contact with lots of people who may be positive for the virus. Whether it's delivered food or groceries, consider taking steps to minimize the interaction for both your safety. That may mean asking they leave it outside the door, if you've paid through an app like Seamless (and remember what Zuckerman said about avoiding cash).
Consider limiting your news intake.
New information about the coronavirus pandemic emerges every hour, and it's important to stay informed on school closures and possible shelter-in-place directives from state governments. But staying glued to the news cycle all day can push your stress levels even higher.
Flaherty suggests checking the news once a day (twice, if you must). "Watching it over and over again creates a constant sense of crisis within us," she says. "As long as you're safe and you're up to date with information, being bombarded by this constant crisis isn't necessarily helpful. "
Remember, social distancing has saved American lives before.
Yes, closed restaurants and canceled concerts are a bummer, and most people would prefer to be out and about. But for a lesson on how effective social distancing can be, consider what happened during the flu pandemic of 1918. By the end of summer that year, as the illness started spreading outward from the military to the general population, St. Louis decided to cancel its Liberty Loan parade (an event held across U.S. cities to help pay for World War 1) in an attempt at containment. Meanwhile, Philadelphia officials decided the war bonds-selling show must go on, and around 200,000 people flocked to Broad Street to march, celebrate, and stand together in close proximity on September 28.
Within two days after the parade, as Smithsonian magazine recounts, every single hospital bed in Philadelphia was occupied. A week later, about 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu, ultimately, it killed 10,000. After St. Louis' quarantine efforts, including skipping their parade, only 700 people died of the flu there.
"We still don't know how infectious this is," Zuckerman says. "We know it can survive more than a day on surfaces. We know the main mode of transition is touching, sneezing, or coughing. But what kind of viral load do you need to be exposed to in order to be infected? We just don’t know." Global health experts are still learning more about how the coronavirus is transmitted and presents symptoms. While "there’s different ways to flatten the curve," Zuckerman says, "the only one we know right now is to avoid people.”
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