Practice physical distance, not social

By Alyssa Foy | Reporter

In a press conference on March 20, the World Health Organization began to shift the dialogue and understanding behind their recommended isolation during this COVID-19 outbreak. During this press conference, the WHO began to exchange the “social distancing” terminology in favor of “physical distancing” in order to better clarify for physical and mental health purposes.

Many have expressed concerns that social distancing implies a complete departure from social interaction, potentially causing people to isolate themselves mentally, which doctors have long advised against.

People need to maintain connections, especially during these times.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the WHO, emphasized during this press conference that “keeping the physical distance from people so that we can prevent the virus from transferring to one another; that’s absolutely essential. But it doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”

However, at this point, the term social distancing is everywhere. When you turn on the news, log onto Twitter or open any email right now, there’s a solid chance you will hear or see the phrase. I think people are already pretty attached to this terminology, and I do wonder the extent of the effects that might have.

Younger people are probably more likely to be using all of the technology they have access to to keep in constant contact with people in their lives. From FaceTime to Netflix Party to Zoom, many young people are already adept at these technological skills.

But what about older generations who have less experience with technology or those who prefer not to use it or don’t have access to it? I wonder how these potential misinterpretations of “social distancing” are affecting people everywhere right now, and I hope that even from six feet apart people can still stay socially connected however they can.

The best way to address this is to change the way we consider this phenomenon in the first place. I would encourage this use of the new phrase. Discussing ideas differently won’t solve everything, but I think discourse is an important place to start when words carry so much meaning.

From what I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, physically distancing is what we’re actually doing – not socially distancing.

Even though we are physically separating ourselves from each other, the reasons for that are so great and deeply rooted in our connections and love with and for others.

By distancing ourselves to flatten the curve we are caring for people we have never even met for the purpose of improving global health – that’s probably one of the greatest acts of love I’ve seen yet.

So let’s switch out this one word and emphasize the physical distance between us and protect our health, but let’s not sacrifice our connections and relationships during this time when we will need them.