Social Distancing and Staying Sane

Why we are staying home (aka “Social Distancing”):

  • A lot of people don’t understand why we’re all staying home for a virus that is only dangerous for a small number of people.  First of all, it can still be deadly for people you love.  If you know a pregnant woman, a person with an autoimmune condition requiring immunosuppressive medications, or anyone over 60, this matters to you.  But more importantly, we are the ones spreading it to the medically vulnerable.  By staying home (and keeping our germy kids home), we are preventing the spread of the disease.
  • Click on this link to work through a very cool simulator of why social distancing works. I went through it with my kids this morning so that they would understand why we’re staying home.  Maybe because they are doctor’s kids and have watched me struggle to keep up with cold and flu season, they immediately saw the problem with the steep curve, “Mom, if everyone gets sick at once then there aren’t enough doctors to take care of them all.”  Exactly.  And the mortality rate is significantly higher if people can’t get the care they need.  Not just the mortality rate from coronavirus itself but from all the other medical problems that don’t just go away–heart attacks, strokes, cancer, etc.  We all need access to a hospital sometimes and making sure the hospitals can do their job is really important.
  • Why 2 weeks?  Well honestly, I think because it’s convenient and doesn’t scare people.  Run the simulator above and imagine what would happen if part way through the simulation of social distancing everyone stopped social distancing…we’d still get a really steep curve.  Two weeks would work well if the incubation period (time from when you get exposed to when you have symptoms) were a day.  But with an incubation period of up to 14 days, we really need 8 weeks to have the biggest impact.  But we’ll see what happens over the next 2 weeks as the situation develops.  This also doesn’t mean that you’re locked in your house for 8 weeks–it just means that you avoid people as much as possible, use delivery if possible, and stay 6 feet away from people at the grocery store.  Even in Italy where they are trying to stop the exponential growth and are rationing ventilators, the grocery stores and pharmacies are still open.  We’ll still have access to everything we need.
  • What in the world is the UK doing?  They are trying an experiment of separating everyone into two groups and letting the low risk people (middle aged and younger without serious medical conditions or pregnancy) catch it and develop herd immunity to protect the high risk group.  I’m guessing this is going to look a lot like the second simulation in the above link if it’s done extremely well (forced quarantine).  But I can’t imagine how that would work in reality since most people live and work together and completely separating the high risk people is basically impossible. Because they have universal healthcare and a fairly good social safety net, they may have the structure in place to pull it off.  But it if fails, it could fail dramatically.  It’s a real gamble and not one I would take.
  • But Singapore didn’t close everything and they seem to be fine? That’s because they responded very strongly from the very beginning with everything from screening every traveler to mandatory quarantines for people who could be infected.  Unfortunately, the response in our country was very slow so it’s too late for that.  Once the virus starts spreading in a community, good hygiene and social distancing are the weapons of choice.

And also hygiene:

  • Wash hands frequently (before and after eating, after using the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, before preparing food, before and after picking your nose, before and after touching your face)
  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces daily (doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, computer mice, phones, counters, tables, etc)
  • Use good cough and sneeze hygiene (cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue that your throw away, wash your hands afterwards)
  • Stay away from other people in your household if you are sick and if you can’t, wear a mask.  If you can’t wear a mask and can’t stay away from them, try to at least keep 6 feet away and use the hygiene recommendations above, sanitizing and hand washing more often.

How to stay sane while cooped up at home:

  • My biggest concern for most people is mental health.  Call the Colorado Crisis Line (click on link) to talk if you’re feeling overwhelmed or you can text “TALK” to 32855.
  • Try to keep a regular daily routine.  I have created a loose schedule for my family of a morning routine (including getting dressed and “ready” even though we’re not going anywhere), work/school time, lunch, more work/school time, family/quiet/supper time, bedtime.
  • We’re also sanitizing surfaces twice every day.  My son has OCD and I don’t want to trigger him by being hypervigilant about germs so we’re just making it a quick, fun, scheduled activity.  We each have our regular assignments so we’re getting pretty efficient.
  • Figure out ways to stay connected with friends and loved ones.  Reading scary articles that someone shared on Facebook does not count as maintaining social interactions!  Consider calling, texting, and emailing friends.  Use Hangouts, Duo, Skype or other similar free apps to see people face to face.  You may find you feel more connected than you did when you were in the same room and not paying attention to each other!
  • My favorite way of connecting when I’m feeling down or anxious is to send off a quick thank you email.  I’ve sent emails or letters to all sorts of people over the years, including my high school chemistry teacher who took me to visit colleges and the custodian at the Museum of Nature and Science who took the time to answer my kids’ questions about the plumping.  Most people are never thanked for what they do and you would not believe how many times I’ve received a reply that my email was read at the all-staff meeting or resulted in someone getting a bonus.  There is good evidence that gratitude decreases anxiety so decrease your own anxiety and give joy to someone else!
  • Make time and space for your hobbies.  This is a great time to do the things you’ve always meant to do but haven’t.  Draw every day, pick up your guitar, memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs.  If you typically go to a gym, figure out what you can still do at home.  We have a runner through our living/dining room that is against a wall and we can all jump rope there without danger to the nearby furniture and knickknacks.  Our rooms are only 10 feet across so we if we can figure out a way to stay active at home, I’ll bet you can too!  It may require changing some rules but it’s fine to change rules for a pandemic.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! (Hopefully…)
  • This is a great time to think about how you’re using your space.  I’ll give you an example of what we’re doing so that maybe you can rethink your own space.  We have a small 1920 bungalow with four people including two very active kids so we sat down last night to figure out some solutions.  We rated each room for whether it has a vital function (like the bathroom), how many times we go into the room each day (like the laundry room, which is also our only clothes closet), and how many hours we spend in the room (like our dining room, which is the hub of our family for everything from school work to eating to just hanging out).  And then we discussed how to make the low-utilization rooms more effective.
  • We’re also working to create spaces and times to be apart.  The kids share a bedroom and they have to go through my bedroom to get to theirs (gotta love old houses!) so we don’t have a lot of privacy.  Planning ahead to not drive each other crazy will go a long way towards our sanity. I imagine many of you have similar challenges and will benefit from thinking ahead on this too!
Please follow all current recommendations for social distancing and for good hygiene.  We can work together to change the course of this pandemic and use it as an opportunity to live according to our values and spend time at home with the people, animals, and activities that we love.

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