Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing

man in white shirt using tablet computer shallow focus photography

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I live in Ohio, and have been quite grateful for the leadership of our governor, Mike Dewine, and the director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton (who grew up in Youngstown!) during this Covid-19 pandemic. During Dr. Acton’s briefing yesterday, she made a point that caught my attention. Quoting someone else who she did not name, she mentioned that it might be better to call what we need right now as physical distancing rather than social distancing.

Physical distancing is one of the critical measures we need to take to “flatten the curve” to avoid a surge of cases that overwhelm our health system, as occurred in Wuhan, Iran, Italy and elsewhere. This could mean doctors would have to make decisions of who gets respirators and who will not. In the same briefing, we learned that 60 to 80 percent of our state’s respirators are already in use, without Covid-19 cases. In addition to staying six to ten feet away from others and avoiding all physical contact, it has meant, in our state and many others, closures of schools and universities, bans on gatherings of over 100, closure of bars and restaurants except for take out purchases, bans on visitors to nursing facilities and prisons, cancellations of sporting and other events attracting crowds. Most religious bodies have cancelled services and gone to online streaming. Physical distancing could protect you from infection, or protect you from infecting someone who is vulnerable.

Social distancing. What we need to think about at this time is not becoming distant socially from one another, but rather finding new ways maintain and strengthen our social ties during an extraordinarily stressful time. On Meet the Press yesterday, David Brooks made this observation:

I looked back and read about all the different pandemics over centuries. And you think people come together in a crisis? They do in some kind of crisis. But in pandemic, they fall apart. The reporting from every crisis for the last thousand years of this sort is that neighbors withdraw from neighbors. You get widened class divisions. Out of fear you get a spirit of callousness.

The other day, I was talking to someone about the crazy hoarding of toilet paper, and he commented, “I’m stocking up on ammo.” His remark brought home to me that we face a question of what kind of society will we become in the next several months. We may choose a survival of the fittest ethic, fighting each other for toilet paper, food, or even a place in the line to get tested. Or we can choose to be a society seeking to recognize our connectedness. While we physical distance, we can reach out in other ways.

  • We can check in on the health and welfare of neighbors and those in our faith community.
  • We can use Nextdoor to learn of needs in our neighborhood. If you have a stash of toilet paper and learn of others with a need, you might consider helping.
  • Someone on quarantine or isolation (which can happen suddenly) legally cannot leave their home. Food, books, games, videos on their doorstep (let them keep them) might lift spirits in important ways.
  • We can particularly be aware of those who are alone, especially the elderly, and stay in contact.
  • We can pay attention to ways we may volunteer as appropriate to our health and age. In our area, voting is taking place. Most poll workers are over 65, putting them in a high risk group. If you have been laid off or work from home and are younger and in good health, you might help in their place.
  • One of the things that did not exist in the earlier pandemics is online technology. We can phone, text, message, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, email, WhatsApp and more. In the last days I’ve been reached out to and reached out to others on many of these media. Religious communities can meet online. People can collaborate in all sorts of ways. Instead of using social media to engage in endless barrages of argument and fingerpointing, we can use it to stay in touch with friends, even share a laugh.

None of our countries will be the same when this ends. David Brooks observed that after the 1918 flu pandemic, people avoided talking about it “because they were ashamed of how they behaved.” This pandemic could rend the fabric of our society even worse than it has been in recent years. Or it could re-focus us on what is important–the ways in which we are mutually dependent upon each other and every human being is of value. Are we going to hoard toilet paper and ammo, or invest in strengthening our social connections? While we practice physical distancing, will we focus on our social connectedness? You and I will make decisions in these next days and weeks that not only affect the health of millions but the fabric of our society. How will you choose?

Bibliophiles in an Age of Social Distancing

woman wearing face mask

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com. [Comment: Advice is that masks should only be used by those who suspect they are infected, not the general population]

The rise and rapid spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus) has brought a new phrase into common usage–“social distancing.” This is the practice of literally keeping your distance from other people. It means avoiding large crowds or close contact with people, especially anyone manifesting symptoms of being ill. If one has been exposed to someone with the illness, it can mean self-quarantines, usually of 14 days, and longer, of course if you contract the illness. In some parts of the world (e.g. China, S. Korea, Italy), “lockdowns” have occurred enforcing social distancing on everyone. This is possible in any municipality, something most of us have never seen but probably ought prepare for. One piece of advice has been to stock up not only on essentials and non-perishables, but also on entertainment, including books.

I suspect for most bibliophiles, this is not a problem with our burgeoning TBR piles, although we are glad for the excuse to stock up (even though this is one “essential” we already have enough of). We might even whittle that pile down.

For most of us, “social distancing” is not a problem either. We have been using books for social distancing (particularly if we’re introverts) for most of our lives. Having our nose in a book usually is tantamount to hanging a “do not disturb” sign around your neck, except for the oblivious few who ask, “what are you reading.” Even then, all you have to do is hold up the cover or spine and show them (making an impromptu bioshield as well!).

I don’t want to make a self-quarantine or a lockdown sound like a “snow day.” But staying healthy includes emotional health, which is probably not enhanced by listening to constant news coverage about the virus. This can even prevent you from sleeping well or getting out and getting fresh air and exercise in the open air. If your state health department is on the ball, their daily bulletins are probably all you need (and we all probably can recite the basic guidelines in our sleep). You can take the rest of that time spent and instead of feeding the 24/7 news cycle to do all the other things I mentioned, plus work from home–and read!

This can be a time to find friends online, whether on Facebook or via video calls to talk about books we like. Pull up your computer, and a glass of wine, or other favorite beverage and chat with friends about books you like.

It may also be a time to explore new books you want to read. Look up your favorite review sites (hopefully including Bob on Books!), and make your list to reserve at the library, or order from your favorite indie (which may be struggling during this time). Put that “want list” together.

Some of us like film adaptations of books, especially those we have read. Perhaps you can make a plan to read or re-read the book, then watch the film and see how it measures up. Netflix subscriptions make this easy.

Reading can be a good way to practice both self-care and care for others during this time. We readers have long known that you don’t have to travel on a plane or car to travel the world (as well as other imagined worlds). Nor does physical isolation require social isolation. As long as we are in good health, we can interact with others in various online media, and turn our love of books into a shared love.

Stay safe out there, friends.