Changing my vocabulary

I have decided to quit using the term social distancing. I realize that it is going to be a bit of a challenge because it is the most common description for the space we are asked to live between ourselves and others in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The term is used over an over in the media. But it is not being helpful.

Here is a brief summary of what we know. The novel coronavirus is a type of virus that has ben known to scientists for some time. This particular virus shows a genetic similarity to a virus that has been discovered in bats and there is evidence that it existed in the bats and somehow spread to humans. The initial observed outbreak happened in China in the region around the city of Wuhan. New viruses appear from time to time. Our immune systems are tuned to deal with viruses and protect us. However this particular virus is very powerful and causes illness and death, especially in vulnerable populations. In Wuhan, where there are many older men who are smokers, it was particularly harmful. The virus spread quickly through human to human contact. Like other similar viruses, it spreads through droplets. The virus is transferred from one person to another through droplets of fluid in spittle and mucus. These are generally ejected in sneezing and coughing. Droplets can also be ejected and land on surfaces such as doorknobs, furniture and fixtures. They can be transferred by a person touching their face and then touching another person through a handshake. The virus itself is very tiny, much smaller than a human cell. Therefore a lot of virus can be contained in a small amount of fluid.

The virus spread from one area to the entire world very quickly. Around 1.5 million people are known to be infected. The actual spread is likely affecting many more people because a person can be infected with the virus and capable of spreading it before they have any symptoms. Some people never develop symptoms.

Scientists and doctors know quite a bit about infection control and disease prevention. However, this particular virus has spread so quickly that it has gotten ahead of control procedures. Control involves being very careful about human contact. Personal protective gear such as masks, gloves, face shields or glasses, and gowns can be used to protect care givers. Isolation of infected people slows the spread. Continual cleaning of surfaces - anything that a person touches - also can slow the spread of the virus. Frequent hand washing is essential.

There are many places including hospitals, prisons, care centers, and ambulance services, that deal with dangerous viruses every day. Our first responders are potentially exposed to Ebola, Marburg, Rabies, HIV, Smallpox, Hantavirus, Influenza, Rotavirus, SARS, Mersa, and many other dangerous viruses. There are vaccines to protect people from some of these, but frontline workers have to be continually careful about the spread of disease in their daily work. In general we are very good about limiting the spread of viruses.

While researchers are working at a very rapid pace to develop a vaccine to protect people from corona virus, it could take more than a year for it to become widely available. Doctors are also learning about ways to treat the virus.

One of the big problems in place where the spread has been rampant is that health care systems have been overwhelmed. Hospitals run at near capacity for intensive care all the time. They still have to deal with the usual demand and then add to it extraordinary demand of those ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by this virus. Slowing the speed of the spread of the virus helps to take some of the pressure off of hospitals.

Everyone has a responsibility to do what we are able to prevent the spread of disease. Because the virus can be spread by those who have no symptoms and have no idea that they are infected, we all need to behave as if we were infected. Thus the lockdown orders and requests for people to keep their distance from one another.

The result is that businesses have temporarily closed. People are out of jobs. The economy is faltering. Goods and supplies are less available because of hoarding. Our society is disrupted. This particular pandemic will likely reach numbers equal to or exceeding the spread of the Spanish Flu during World War I.

It is a time when we need each other. It is a time when we need to cooperate. It is a time when we ned to support one another. What we need will not be accomplished by social isolation. We need social cohesion. Keeping physical distance to limit the spread of the virus is not the same as becoming socially isolated. This is not a time for “I’m going to save myself and forget about everyone else.” Actually there is never a time for that. Evolution doesn’t really work by survival of the fittest. Evolution favors cooperation and creatures that can help one another.

So I will use the term “physical distancing,” but not the other term. I will work to uphold community in ways that are responsible. I will speak of the need for even stronger social bonds and connections in a time of crisis. I will reach out to those who are in need. I will work at systems of communication and connection. I will use the terms “service” and “sacrifice” frequently. I will tell the stories of other times in our history when people have been threatened and survived. I will minister to those who are grieving. And there is a lot of grief going around.

I will take seriously the needs of our community for safety. I will listen carefully to the advice of medical professionals and scientists. I will not despair. Even without new treatments, which are coming and even without a vaccine, which will be developed, human bodies are developing immunities. We will survive this through herd immunities, not through individual immunities. We need contact with each other to remain human.

I will honor your need for physical distance, but I will not support your isolation.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!