My Journey: It is not Social Distancing but Social Isolation.

Stop. Just Stop. Stay the F*^& Home
(That means YOU)

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I originally wrote this for my personal friends, but I have gotten so many positive comments that I have re-written it with the appropriate links and more clarification.

Social Distancing….a new term that is causing confusion, especially in countries where the national government is not being as clear as it should be, such as the USA, UK, and Australia. The messages are confusing, and we are often left up to our own judgement to determine what to do.

Social Distancing….We have been given the impression that by not going out to big events, restaurants, and standing 6 feet away from the stranger in the store than we are successfully practicing social distancing.

It is not enough. We have been using the term because everyone is afraid of the panic it would cause to use the term for what is really needed: Social Isolation.

STOP GOING OUT! (And the Why Behind It)

Your actions today will determine how many people will die tomorrow. There is no need to panic. I am not over-reacting. I have studied the research and am taking decisive action to keep my friends and family safe. I need you to do the same.

I am not an expert, so I highly recommend you listen to the experts. Here is the link to WHO, and here is the Imperial College study that should scare the pants off you and make you want to stay indoors. The bottom line is we have to take action. NOW. TODAY.

To do this, we need to be clearer with our language. We need to be realistic and understand that in practical terms social distancing is actually social isolation.

This means no private dance lessons, no massages, and no hair appointments. It means no game nights with just 4-5 people, no one-on-one coffee get-togethers at a friend’s house, no Sunday dinners with the in-laws (Ha! There is a silver lining…just joking). It means cancelling all doctor and dentist appointments unless you are very sick, and then calling the doctor first and following their strict guidelines. No eating out. No take out. No delivery.

It means isolating yourself and your loved ones from the rest of the world for 6-8 weeks.

Honestly, we all (but especially places like Seattle) should have been doing this a month ago when the first deaths were reported. If you have had few or no cases in your area, it is only a matter of time. We are beyond containing this virus. Our only hope now is to minimize the outbreak and deaths.

I know that many of you are hourly or self-employed. You are a small business owner. I know many of you do not have health care. This will hit you very hard. Getting the virus and ending up hospitalized for 4 weeks will hit you even harder. Learning you were a super-carrier who infected hundreds of people and caused the death of someone will hit you harder. The economy will be hurt, and you may lose your business. You may even lose your home. Those things can be rebuilt, but only if you are alive and healthy to rebuild. This is a time for hard choices and doing what is best to save lives.

DIFFERENT SOCIAL ISOLATNION MODELS

Now that you understand how important social distancing/isolation is (if not go back and re-read the Imperial College Report) what does it mean?

I am originally from Seattle, with a number of alternative relationship models, so I am going to use some of those terms to describe the social dynamics for the type of social isolation you may want to impose.

Celibacy – It is just you and your hand sanitizer. You remain in your home with no physical contact with anyone. This is by far the safest yet loneliest choice. It also limits your support network. You are completely responsible for your own financial, emotional, and physical well-being.

Monogamy – All physical contact is limited to those who live under the same roof. Whether by blood or choice, you become a family unit. There can be no physical contact with anyone that does not live under the same roof. This provides some socialization while still giving a high level of protection. You will all look out for the financial, physical, and emotional well being of each other. It is important that if you choose this option you have clear expectations of behavior that everyone agrees to follow. No cheating on each other!

Closed Cluster – This is when you combine more than one household. The more you combine, the higher the risk. If you choose this option, try to keep it as small as possible and as physically close to each other as possible. While you may not share financial responsibility, you are committing to the emotional and physical responsibility of each other. Like ‘monogamy’, if you choose this model, it is even more important that you have clearly defined expectations for both households and that no one acts outside of those expectations without full transparency.

Remember, if you ‘cheat’ on your family unit/cluster then you are endangering not only yourself but everyone in your unit as well as everyone in the other person(s) unit.

If you are single, you may want to join a family unit or cluster. You may need to combine households (it is a crappy time to move, but it may be necessary) or allow someone to move into your home. This will allow both physical and social support. You will be able to combined resources and look out for each other. Make sure you have long discussions about expectations. This situation may span months, so be careful about the choices and the relationship agreements you make.

Each of us will need to determine what type of self-isolation is best for our financial and emotional health. There are introverts that are quite happy to live on their own with little or no social interaction. For many of us, we want and need other people in close proximity. If there are young children, consider long-term care and socialization for the kids as well as your own ability to care for them. Whatever you decide, keep it closed to just those people. Don’t Cheat!!!

NOW WHAT?

Communication and planning are key. Whether you live alone, are in a family unit, or are a closed cluster, walk through these scenarios so that you know where your own boundaries are and have a plan in place. Understand the need for you and the people you are quarantining with to decide together what this means for everyone involved.


-What do you do if one person in the family or cluster gets sick?
-Who is responsible for the pets and/or kids? Come up with a schedule.
-Who checks in on the elderly or isolated neighbor? Or do you?
-Who goes to the store and under what protocol?
-What type of work schedule is needed to meet everyone’s needs?
-Under what circumstances would you open your home/cluster to another person(s)?

Again, think of it in terms of a relationship. You may think it is ok to order a pizza. You may think it ok to have coffee with a neighbor or order something from Amazon. Others in your family unit or cluster may see it as cheating and unnecessary risk. Set clear expectations for everyone, including kids. Think through as many scenarios as possible and come up with the guidelines that everyone will follow. Then follow those guidelines.

MAKING IT WORK BY WORKING TOGETHER

What does this look like in real life? I’ll use my own story as an example.

As many of you know, I have been traveling as a nomad since last year. In January I decided not to go back to Asia because I had concerns for the COVID-19 Virus and instead opted to come to Europe. Around the end of February, I realized I would have to decide if I were going to return to Seattle or find a place in Europe. I first tried to find a place to rent for a month in Southern France with no luck. I then pursued renting my own small apartment in Scotland, but the prices were too high. At the time, friends in Zurich reached out and offered a room. We spent an entire day asking questions back and forth, going over expectations. We all talked it over and the next day I caught a bus to Zurich (arriving shortly before borders were closed).

The couple that took me in have a young son. They also have a downstairs neighbor, a single mom with a child. We discussed combining our two households into a ‘cluster’. This was done first among the members of our household before we approached the neighbor. We are sharing financial, emotional, and physical support with everyone under our household, and emotional and physical support with the neighbor and her daughter. We have formed a Closed Cluster and agreed to the following guidelines:

-No physical contact with anyone else outside of the household/cluster. This is paramount. If you can not agree with this then the rest is pretty useless.

-No one outside of our cluster enters either of our homes. If someone needs to deliver something, they need to leave it outside.

-If we are in public, we keep 6 ft between ourselves and others. We go for daily walks, with our hands in our pockets. The kids know not to touch anything until we get to the woods. We cross the street to avoid walking past someone.

-Only one person goes to the store in town once a week. There is a small grocery within walking distance and I go there 2-3 times a week for bread and fresh veggies. We are going to try making our own bread to reduce this contact. Yes, the stores will remain open…STOP with the panic buying.

-The kids do NOT go to the store, the school, or the playground. They have been taught not to touch anything: banisters, benches, fences. Kids are Petri dishes and touch everything. If your school is open, pull them out. NOW. Don’t worry about their academics. In another week or two, your district will be closed anyway.

-The store is the ONLY public place we will go (besides outdoor walks).

-When in the store we keep 6 feet from other people. We take our own tissue to touch things or wear gloves (preferably cloth gloves that can immediately be washed at home). We minimize touching any surfaces and only pick up the specific item(s) we plan to buy. We don’t ‘handle’ food items or containers. We take our own shopping bag(s) to avoid using the carts. I have a baggy of tissue and pick things up with the tissue to put in my bag then throw the tissue away when I leave the store.

-We pay with Debit or Credit card to minimize contact with currency and use a tissue to touch the keypad. If you can, use the tap feature.

-When re-entering the house, we have a hand sanitizer station by the door. We sanitize our hands, the keys, our phone, anything that might have touched an outside surface. We then immediately wash our hands.

-After sanitizing and washing our hands, we wipe down anything we bought from the store with sanitizer or wash with soap and water.

-All restaurants are closed here, but you may need to decide if take out and home deliveries are allowed. Discuss and decide as a group how you are going to handle outside food containers.

-Come up with a protocol for mail and packages. We all agreed that any box will be moved to the back porch. Wearing gloves, the box will be opened after 24 hours and the contents dis-infected before being brought into the house.

-The neighbor takes the children on certain days so that the couple can do work from home. The children come over other days when she has conference calls or needs work. I try to fill in as needed with childcare, meals, and household duties.

-We all know we need alone time. It may be a walk alone, staying up late to watch a movie, or going to bed early to read. We are finding what works best for each of us and accommodating that need.

-If one of us gets sick, they will self-isolate inside the house while the others disinfect the common areas. Food and medicine will be brought to the door but the person will not leave their room unless it is to use the bathroom.

-If someone gets sick and it spreads, no blaming the initial sick person. No blame, no guilt. We are in this together.

I am sure there are other things to consider and we have open communication between everyone in the household to work through future issues. Communication and trust are essential.

My morning walk is vital to my well-being. Fresh air helps with stress.

WHEN WILL THIS END?

I wish I could say that this will all be over in a few weeks. We would all like life to go back to normal by Easter, but the reality is that we will be in and out of quarantine for the next 18 months to 2 years. We will need to take these precautions until there is a vaccine. (Read more on that topic Here). I don’t know how long I will be in this living situation. At some point in the next few months things will get better and I will need to make a decision as to where to go before the next wave hits…and it will hit. For now, I consider myself lucky and will continue to practice open communication and respecting the boundaries and personal space of the others in my cluster group.

People will lose their jobs, their businesses, their homes, and sadly, their lives. The more we work together now to get through the hard times the more pressure we take off the health care facilities, the more people will survive, the less long-term damage will be done. We CAN get through this…we WILL rebuild.

Stay safe.

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