Sunday, March 15, 2020

Social distancing vs social isolation during COVID-19

Grocery shopping yesterday - produce dwindles
Tarah Hodgkinson

Wow, what a week its been. I had a few ideas for this week’s blog, but it feels negligent not to write about what is affecting all of our communities right now. And that is COVID-19.

We are in an unprecedented time for this generation. The world is shutting down and a highly contagious flu is spreading like wildfire across our increasingly connected world. Indeed, we are witnessing a global pandemic.

Here in Australia, universities are closing their doors and classes are going online. Residents are being encouraged to stay home and avoid social gatherings. Many are panic-buying toilet paper and other necessities, leaving shelves totally empty. Grocery store chains are being forced to limit the purchase of numerous items.

More importantly, and almost completely against our ethos at SafeGrowth, people are being told to socially distance themselves from others. Major public health authorities are encouraging people to work from home (if they can), stay home if they feel sick at all and avoid large social gatherings to “flatten the curve.”

Department stores everywhere are emptying 


And this is the right advice. For highly contagious viruses like COVID-19, the risk of exposure is huge for people who are older, have weakened immune systems, respiratory issues, or other preconditions. Social distancing will reduce the demand on already over-burdened hospitals and their staff who, like Italy, will quickly run out of treatment facilities.

But, as we know, social distancing is not an option for many of our fellow SafeGrowth communities, who do not have access to paid sick leave or are living from paycheck to paycheck and have to work to survive. Never have these issues seemed more pressing.

Furthermore, social distancing can also lead to social isolation. By staying home and away from others, we can feel disconnected and lonely. And while social distancing is an important part of protection from viruses, as we know from research, social isolation isn’t good for our health. Just yesterday I received a message from one of my close friends at home. She has been instructed to work from home and is already feeling alone and isolated.

Farmer's market yesterday in Brisbane - events remain open


What do we do? Well, we have many accounts of what humans do in disaster to help guide us. Eric Klinenberg’s book Heat Wave details how older women survived one of the worst heat waves in Chicago in 1995. They called each other. Every day, they sat is tubs full of water or under air conditioning or fans and called to check in on each other and stay connected.

Rebecca Solnit’s book Paradise Built in Hell, reminds us throughout human history, in disaster situations, humans engage in incredible acts of altruism. They donate more, set up relief shelters, check on their neighbours and prepare meals for those who can’t.

In this time of uncertainty, instability, and fear, we encourage our fellow SafeGrowth community to reach out and check in with each other (phone, skype, facetime, letters!) and share those extra items you may have bought with those who may be struggling.

Most importantly, be kind to one another and don’t forget to wash your hands!