By now you’ve all heard that we need to be practicing social distancing like, yesterday. Social distancing refers to staying away from people and maintaining a safe distance of six feet or more. But with most of our social outlets closing, including schools, stores, restaurants, we as parents are faced with a daunting task these next four to eight weeks: keeping our families healthy, safe, and sane in the (forced) privacy of our homes.
While many of the suggestions I’m about to make seem severe, well that’s because they are. We are about a week or two behind what’s going on in Europe, especially Italy, where thousands of people are dying, and not just the elderly and medically frail. The steps we take–or don’t take–these next days and weeks will determine the health of our communities, both locally and nationally. This should be empowering, not frightening. These are tangible steps you can take right now, during a time of helplessness, to ensure the safety of you and those around you.
We have moved from containment (isolating people who have been exposed or tested positive with COVID-19) to pandemic mitigation, which means we need to minimize the contact we have with each other across all communities for the next several weeks to months. This is because COVID-19 is in our communities, even if you can’t see it. We just don’t have enough tests right now to reveal the true impact. The more it spreads, the more likely certain vulnerable populations will become sick and die. And while many of the people most likely to suffer from this virus are elderly, there are many cases of previously healthy young people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are in the ICU right now, so this impacts everyone.
What does social distancing mean? Firstly, it means closing down schools, working from home (if possible), and eliminating group gatherings and public events. There are many daily choices we can make these next few weeks that will help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep our communities safe.
Here are my thoughts, based on information we have been sourcing from physicians here in the US, Italy, and China. These interventions are extreme, because, well, the current situation is extreme, and it calls for drastic measures.
No playdates, parties, sleepovers, or family visits
Most of the spread in China and Italy have been amongst family members, who then bring it to their workplace or other social gatherings. So we need to stay separated for now. Canceling school is not just a reason to then have lots of playdates or social gatherings to pass the time.
Symptoms of this virus start to appear on average 5 days after exposure; which means people you are seeing today may not appear sick but could develop the illness a few days later, at which point for you it will be too late. It is highly contagious and the government closed your school for a reason. So stay home.
Get outside when you can, but avoid play structures or other public facilities
The Coronavirus can survive on plastic and metal for up to three days, and public facilities are not cleaned very often. Getting outside will be important for our physical and mental health, however, make sure to maintain a distance from others of at least six feet. Do not share items including balls or other plastic toys with other kids outside of your home. This sounds mean, but these are times where we have to take very strict measures. Ideas can include walking, jogging, and bike riding, or kicking a ball in a wide space.
Do not visit older family members, especially those in nursing homes, retirement communities or hospitals
As we have learned from the situation in Seattle, this age group is very susceptible to this virus and we need to protect them by staying away. A lot of people have mild to no symptoms, so you may think you are ok to visit but you may be unknowingly spreading the virus.
Reduce the frequency with which you visit grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops
Some of these trips are necessary, so just try to limit them, and consider doing delivery or curbside pickup for now. Wash your hands well before and after. I have been keeping Lysol wipes in my car and wiping down all surfaces especially my steering wheel and door handles for extra safety. Eating out and take out meals are riskier than cooking at home because you don’t know the health status of the people preparing food for you. We don’t know the exact risk, but we know it’s higher than you preparing food yourself at home.
Disinfect your home
The moment we realized we were homebound, I went to town with Lysol wipes, especially in our high traffic areas like the kitchen and bathrooms. I also have everyone wash their hands as soon as they enter the house and before eating anything.
Stay home if you are sick
Most people will have only mild to moderate symptoms (if at all) with this virus. You are still most likely to have a regular old head cold, allergies or the flu (which is also bad this year!). If you aren’t sure what to do or whether you need testing, message or call your doctor for further instructions. DO NOT go to the doctor’s office or the Urgent Care or ER, CALL FIRST. Most clinics and hospitals have established separate respiratory clinics to prevent further spread of illness, so you want to know where to go before you leave your home.
I’m borrowing these last few words from a colleague and leader in healthcare, Dr. Asaf Bitton MD, MPH, Executive Director at Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital because she said it best:
“I realize there is a lot built into these suggestions, and that they represent a real burden for many people, businesses, and communities. Social distancing is hard and may negatively impact others, especially those who face vulnerabilities in our society. I recognize that there is structural and social inequity built in and around social distancing recommendations. We can and must take steps to bolster our community response to people who face food insecurity, domestic violence, and housing challenges, along with the many other social inequities.
I also realize that not everyone can do everything. But we have to try our absolute best as a community, starting today. It is a public health imperative. If we don’t do this now voluntarily, it will become necessary later involuntarily, when the potential benefits will be much less than doing so right now.”