housesDr. Corinne Masur

Our past few posts have been positive: great podcasts for kids and teens, resources for parents staying at home with their children, that sort of thing.

But today it feels like time to write a different kind of post.

Parents who I “see” (online) in my “office” (house) have been saying things to me like, “I just had to get out of the house so I went to the store to buy some bread” or “I’ve been babysitting for my niece while school is out so I thought it would be alright to have dinner with her parents and a friend of theirs.”

Staying home is hard. For everyone. People who live alone are feeling incredibly isolated; people who live with their families are feeling incredibly suffocated; children are missing their friends; teenagers are crawling out of their skins not being able to hang out with each other. We have never been through anything like this and it’s hard to know what to do or how to handle this.

But…..we have to.

Recently a lecturer in epidemiology at Yale, Jonathan Smith, wrote the following:

If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical. We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. 

Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.

In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does.

I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.

We are getting tired of staying inside. We are getting tired of being at home. We are sick of social distancing.  We are tired of cooking for ourselves, of not being able to go out to eat. We actually WANT to go back to work.

But we need to keep up the effort to socially distance and to stay away from anyone but those we’ve chosen to shelter with.

We can’t do many of the things we’re used to doing. And it feels like more and more deprivation every day.

But perhaps we CAN change our thinking.  If, as the epidemiologist says, the social distancing and the staying at home DO work.  If we can comprehend that these measures DO prevent illness and death, then we need to think about what we are doing as our duty to mankind. And we need to tell our children that what we are doing is for the good, not just of ourselves, but of our society and our world.  We’re not used to thinking in these terms.  These are the words we use when we are in wartime, fighting what we consider to be a just war (if there is such a thing).  This is the kind of thing we say when we spend those few hours a year doing volunteer work.

And these days, in this country, for those of us with decent jobs and decent homes, we are not used to deprivation.  We are used to having plenty of everything whenever we want it.  We are not used to doing things that are really, really hard and really, really depriving over long periods of time.

But now it’s down to ALL of us doing this work, because that is what it is, all day every day, for as long as it takes, it’s WORK.

And it isn’t easy.

It’s incredibly hard.

And it will take patience.

And inner resources we didn’t know we had.

But we have to do it and we have to think about it as our duty to ourselves, our society and our world.


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