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Staying Social During Social Distancing

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Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianMarch 19, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

COVID-19 has really changed our lives. Social distancing is the new norm, and we all need to do it. Staying inside and keeping to ourselves can help curb the spread of infection and help our hospitals function by lessening the load of patients coming in. And we all need our hospitals to function. But it is not easy to isolate ourselves – as humans, we are social beings.

So how can we socialize in the time of social distancing? Here are some of the most common scenarios to consider.

Can kids have playdates, or just one friend over?

In one study in Pediatrics, 13% of children were asymptomatic – that means they had coronavirus but didn’t have symptoms. Unfortunately, this means that even your neighbor’s kid who you’ve known for years and looks well could have the virus. Also, he may have been in contact with someone who has it. Unfortunately, for now, playdates are a no.

Can we see grandma since we are not sick?

Another no. The elderly are especially at risk of getting really sick, and because anyone can be a carrier, it is wise to stay away from grandma. You can Facetime them or speak to them via Skype. Visual interaction can be much better than the phone. Also, if grandma is healthy, encourage them to go for a walk by themselves but be careful of touching anything and wash their hands well when they get back.

Can I go for a walk with a friend?

Maybe. If you are without symptoms, and the friend is without symptoms, and both of you don’t have underlying health issues, you could do that – if you stay 6 feet apart! And make sure that you don’t share a water bottle or touch anything of theirs. I did take a walk with a neighbor recently, and it was a nice ‘getaway’, but we both followed these rules. I may have her over for a coffee on the porch outside – we will sit 6 feet away and have paper cups so we can dispose of them and reduce exposure.

How else can I socially interact?

Unlike the times of the Spanish flu or polio, we are really lucky to have technology that we can communicate. Jump on a conference call with your work colleagues so you can see their faces – visual communication (seeing facial expressions) is an important part of human interaction, and this can help you feel less isolated. Have visual calls with friends and family as well; it’s wonderful to see others, even if it’s by a screen.

Is there anything else that can help the feeling of social isolation and or symptoms of loneliness?

Research has shown that one way we can feel more connected is by showing compassion towards others. There are many people in difficult circumstances right now – industries like restaurants and retail stores are shutting their doors, leaving many people without jobs. For the 1 in 4 families who depend on school lunches to feed their kids, life is very challenging right now as schools are shut down. Can you and your neighbors help them? Can you reach out and see if anyone needs food when you go for a grocery run and possibly deliver some bags to them? Kindness towards others not only helps them, but you as well.

Social distancing can feel like social isolation, but we can try to close this gap by doing some of things above. It is not easy to be in this circumstance, but we must all do our part to keep ourselves, and others, safe.  

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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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