What is life supposed to look like right now?
It’s April 2020 and that is the question I ask myself every morning when I wake up. It’s the question beating in my brain every night when I try to go to sleep. My friends and I bat the question back and forth, coming to slightly different conclusions depending on the day. We are all asking it, tacitly and explicitly, with every choice we make. What is life supposed to look like right now? And I think, if we’re honest, what we all might really be asking is this: how can I best take care of me, take care of the people I love, and take care of my community, at this specific moment in time?
At the very root of the question lies another, more dire one: what actions can I personally take to help keep as many people as possible alive?
Because of the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus, every individual’s action has the capacity to greatly affect the collective. That’s why now, more than ever, we each have to examine every single choice we make with the utmost logic and care. We have to act as if every choice we individually make is one between potential life or death for many – because it is.
This is how we help. This is an act of love. This is community care.
Social Distancing, Shelter In Place, Quarantine – Whatever You Or Your State Is Calling It, Stay Away From Other People!
Part of what has made changing our behavior during this crisis so complicated is that it is very difficult to follow the news and the instructions we’re receiving can often seem contradictory or simply confusing. What experts know to be true (or false) can literally change every day, and unfortunately we can never feel certain that the people in charge are telling the truth. The other part is that unfortunately humans are selfish and social creatures, and individualism reigns supreme in the United States even amongst people who do care about the collective. It’s time to take the information we do know to be true and hold ourselves accountable to following instructions. The instructions right now? Stay home and away from other human beings you don’t live with as much as possible.
That means that regardless of where your state is up to in making laws or suggestions, you personally have the ability to save lives and help slow the spread of this virus right now. The only thing you have to do is keep yourself away from other humans. Scientists originally recommended keeping 6 feet of space between oneself and all other humans around you in order to properly practice social/physical distancing, however as the virus continues to spread some scientists have indicated that 6 feet is not good enough – one of the most recent articles I read indicated that 20 feet might be better. That means you should not go on a “social distance date” and try your best to stay 6 feet away from the other person. You should not hang out with your friends in the park at 6 feet apart. You should not hang out on your neighbor’s porch with only the screen door separating you. The recommendation to stay 6 feet away from someone else is a defense we can take on when we must go outside – to buy groceries, or to take a solo jog around the neighborhood – it is not a magical solution to the problem. It is not permission to hang out in groups. We all have to be doing the absolute most we can do to slow the spread right now, and we have to keep it up until this is over.
Risk Management: What Is Reasonable, What Is Not
We learn new data every day (and sometimes our leaders even share this data with us truthfully in real time) and what we know now is that people can have the virus without ever showing symptoms, these people are still capable and likely to spread the virus for up to 14 days, and that the virus is transmitted through droplets that occur when we cough and sneeze, yes, but also when we talk and sigh and breath and exist. We also know that the United States does not have the capacity to test people appropriately, so many of us will become infected with the virus and will never know. That means it’s possible you have the virus right now, are not showing symptoms, will never show symptoms… and could be passing the virus on to other people you interact with who could get very sick and die. That is not a hypothetical fear-mongering statement. It’s just true.
Human beings are not perfect and we will all continue to make the best choices we can regarding the risks around this virus until… well, until this is over. Most of us, even if we are not essential workers, have to be around people sometimes. Many of us have roommates, or family members we live with, or we go to the grocery store. But it’s worth knowing what the risks are, and taking our choices and the risks we are incurring (both for ourselves and for the collective) seriously every time we make them. I won’t lie to you – we don’t know definitively if it’s okay to sit on your friend’s porch, at six feet or at twenty feet, and talk to them through the screen door. We just don’t know if you will transmit the virus that way. But we do know that if you stay home… you definitely won’t transmit the virus.
The safest choice we can make is to stay home and not interact with anyone outside of our household. Through all the misinformation and changing recommendations, that remains a known truth.
Isolation Pods: Can You Form Them (Somewhat) Safely?
Something that has come up over and over when I’ve talked with friends who live alone or who do not live with their partners is the fact that this feels unfair and lonely! I live alone – I get it! Much of the guidance from experts indicates that social distancing rules do not include your family, implying that you would be living with your family. How do we manage physical distancing rules when we are single, when we live alone, or when we do not live with the people who matter most to us?
One option is to continue to live strictly exactly as you are living. If you live alone, continue to live alone. If you live with roommates, discuss how to make your house a closed space and then continue to live and interact with only each other. If one or more of your roommates is unable to stay home because they are an essential worker that means it is even more important to keep the house an otherwise closed bubble because by living together you all become highly susceptible to exposure and thus highly likely to pass on the virus whether or not you experience symptoms or even realize you are sick. In my opinion this is the safest option, and though it is absolutely taking a toll on my mental health, it is the option I am currently enacting.
The second option is to form an isolation pod. I have to emphasize that unless you are planning to literally move in with the other person in your pod, experts have cautioned against this, mostly because humans are imperfect and we all have a tendency to make mistakes without realizing it. This article from Vox features three epidemiologists answering the question about if it’s safe to form a small closed circle of single people to spend time together during this, and the answer is essentially no, it’s not possible. That said, one epidemiologist in the article said that the most successful story she had heard about this method and one that she felt more cautiously comfortable with than the others is one in which two friends in the same city isolated for 14 days in their apartments where they lived alone (so they truly saw no one else for 14 days) and then one moved in with the other, so they formed a new little unit. This is obviously not realistic for everyone, but I do think that if you are hoping to be around other people during this pandemic and you currently live alone, an option is to isolate for 14 days and then join another household. The key with isolation pods is that you are keeping a very closed loop, and you are being hyper honest about your actions.
I personally find it helpful to remember that I can be virtually social even though I live alone, and that this is not going to last forever.
This Is Not The Same For Everyone: Do Better Than Your Best But Don’t Be A Cop
Is it possible for someone struggling with suicidal ideation who lives alone to get through this without physical support? Is it fair to ask someone to shelter in place with their abuser? What about people who don’t have a home? These questions are just a few scenarios that highlight the awful reality and impossible choices many people in our community are currently navigating. I cannot begin to answer these questions but I can acknowledge that saying “staying home is the safest option” is sometimes overly simplistic and dangerous.
But these questions do not pertain to all of us. Many of us are able to stay home and feel as safe and comfortable as one can feel during a pandemic, period. That’s why we all need to be doing better than our best. Working on a community level means making choices for the good of the group. That means that those of us who are able to pick up the slack and go above and beyond when it comes to strict physical distancing rules really need to do that right now. We also need to acknowledge how harm reduction works and realize this is not a zero sum game. Even if you are required to leave your house for work during the week, you can stop seeing friends on the weekend. You can plan to go to one grocery store a week instead of three separate stores like usual. You can accept that your housemates may not want to hug and be as affectionate as usual right now. Small actions are meaningful.
My fear in writing something like this is that I do not believe in a police state and I don’t believe in policing each other. We do not know what every individual is going through and I hope it would go without saying that you should never ever call the cops on someone for not following the rules of social distancing as you perceive them. We also should not be casually policing each other. We do not know what anyone’s circumstances are at a given moment and I want to be able to trust that if someone is not staying home or not complying with the strictest version of shelter in place that they have a reason to be doing so.
And yet – even with those caveats – I do want us to hold each other and ourselves accountable.
Before now, back in the then, community care often looked like gathering, like showing up, like holding each other.
Now we are in the now.
Your life is not going to feel normal. This is not normal. This is a pandemic. This is life or death. Our only tool is physical distance. We have to use it.
Do not become socially distant. Do not emotionally isolate. Call your friends. When you do go to the grocery store, offer to pick things up for your neighbors and do a no-contact drop off. Donate to relief funds. Host your birthday party on Zoom. Check in on someone who you think might be lonely. Ask for help. After isolating for 14 days move in with a friend. Write letters, write emails, write journal entries. Put love out into the world but don’t use your body to deliver the love. Find new ways to connect.
Stay at home and stop looking for loopholes when it comes to socializing in person. Stay social, but do it from your own home. Stay inside or go for a solo walk. Stay away from other people. It’s hard and I’m sorry, but it’s literally the least we can all do. In April 2020, this is what love looks like. This is what community care looks like.
This is what life is supposed to look like right now.