We get it: You’re bored at home right now and would love to see your friends or family members that live nearby, especially given how stressed you are in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. You’re just one person, visiting a person or a handful of people you’re close to; how much could it hurt?
A lot, in fact. Health experts and authorities urge you: Out of an abundance of caution, stay home.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday delivered a grim warning to people on socialising, even in small groups in the home. He gave an example of a dinner party last week in Victoria where one person attended the event with coronavirus and 10 people left that dinner party with the virus.
“Whether you call it being Australian, being Victorian, whether you call it decent behaviour, civic duty, I don’t care what you call it, just do it,” he warned.
“You need to keep your distance.”
Victoria has introduced a special task force where 500 police officers will enforce social distancing rules.
As more and more cities and states move to establish stay-at-home executive orders ― NSW and VIC― we’re all looking for potential loopholes for connectivity. We’re grasping for normalcy.
Bar, restaurants, cafes and gyms are predicted to stay closed for six months.
But healthy self-distancing doesn’t just mean avoiding bars and restaurants (not that you can go to them now anyway, sorry); it also means staying home and not visiting seemingly healthy friends at their homes.
“If you mingle around people right now, shake hands, hug, sit closely together or pack yourself into the beach with no space between towels - then a very contagious virus (AKA COVID-19) is going to spread - QUICKLY,” explained Australian doctor Dr Preeya Alexander.
“Say no to the pub/birthday party/ gathering - stay home as much as possible. This isn’t an overreaction, it’s not a joke, it’s not something to be taken lightly. To those who are literally saying “it’s all being hammed up” “it’s an overreaction” or “it will be fine” - look at Italy, China and the US and then wash your hands and stay home because we are just at the beginning of the curve and it is terrifying.
Dr Alexander also pointed out Australia’s 2000 ICU beds in Australia are going to exhausted well before Influenza season (and COVID-19) even starts to peak.
“You are playing with fire if you visit friends,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate chair and professor of health science at Ball State University. “At this point, we have to act like everyone is infected. You can be a risk to yourself, your family, your friends, and the entire community.”
Khubchandani pointed to a new study out of China that suggests asymptomatic people spread COVID-19 the most. Many cases are mild enough that you might not realise you’re infected, he said, and infected people have shown symptoms after weeks of being asymptotic.
“You are playing with fire if you visit friends. At this point, we have to act like everyone is infected.”
That’s why it’s so important to make your social circle as teeny-tiny and antisocial as possible right now.
“The only people you should be seeing are those you can’t avoid: those living with you before this pandemic started and stable relationships like a significant other,” Khubchandani said. “Even in those cases, it’s with all the precautions, hygiene, and distancing as much as possible.”
If you go see your SO, you need to know that they haven’t been anywhere either.
Seeing your friends IRL right now is kind of like playing a game of pool where coronavirus is the cue ball, said Kirsten Hokeness, professor and chair of the Department of Science and Technology at Bryant University and an expert in immunology, virology, microbiology, and human health and disease.
“If the white ball is the virus and you have a table full of balls to target, the ‘virus’ has a lot of options,” she said. “Your friend, people your friend lives with, including anyone who’s older or has underlying conditions who’s more susceptible.”
“Start taking those balls off of the table until they are gone, and now it has nowhere to go.”
Without a coronavirus vaccine, the only means we have to limit the spread of the virus is to prevent it from being able to go from one host to the next.
“The virus needs a host to keep going,” Hokeness said. “It can’t live on its own, so it needs you and your friends as a vehicle to keep spreading. If it infects someone and then has nowhere else to go, it stops right there.”
When you keep getting together, even in very small groups, “you run the risk of giving the virus one more chance to persist in the population,” Hokeness said.
Why is social distancing so hard for some people to come to terms with? The answer lies in the first part of that now-ubiquitous phrase, said Liz Higgins, a family therapist and founder of Millennial Life Counseling in Dallas.
“We are social beings. We’re made to connect,” she said. “It is a physiological experience for us to want and crave interaction with others. What we are being asked to do during this time, in essence, goes against our entire makeup: Certainly, digital connecting can meet some of this need, but not completely.”
Yes, you may be experiencing high levels of pandemic-fuled FOMO and anxiety about when you’ll next be able to see your close friends or family. But please don’t try to squeeze in one last get-together this weekend.
“My advice to someone struggling with social distancing is to really sit with the fact that this is temporary,” Higgins said. “While we don’t know for a fact when this will end, we can say with full certainty that it will, at some point. Let that fact ground you and make these temporary decisions to stay in more doable.”
Take this as an opportunity to focus inward, Higgins said. As humans, we have an unending desire to stay in the loop with friends and family, but there’s not much to be kept in the loop about right now; all of our social lives suck. (If anything, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone in your desire for human contact. Look at how many people are posting on social media right now; we’re all going slightly crazy.)
“The faster that we can quarantine and prevent the virus from having its next host to replicate in and spread, the faster we will be able to start to regain some normalcy.”
Find ways to maintain a sense of normalcy by using technology, including video conferencing apps. The New York Times reported that nearly 600,000 people downloaded Zoom on Sunday alone. Join them!
Grab a glass of wine and have a Sunday night rant and rave session about our (temporary, as short-lived as possible) new normal. Have a group chat where you catalog all the weird things you’ve seen in the background of your co-workers’ work-from-home setups during virtual meetings. Pencil in a “Love is Blind” pod dating-esque Friday night dinner with your boyfriend. (Netflix even has a browser extension where you can watch along with your friends and family.)
Social distancing doesn’t mean you don’t get to be social. It just means you have to do it from home for the time being.
“The faster that we can quarantine and prevent the virus from having its next host to replicate in and spread, the faster we will be able to start to regain some normalcy,” Hokeness said.
Carly Williams contributed to this report.