Opinion: Social distancing during coronavirus could provide much-needed unity

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An air of uncertainty has descended on the Boise State campus. The announcement by the university’s administration that classes on Friday, March 14 would be run entirely online shifted the narrative about COVID-19 from “over there” to “here.” Then, Idaho’s first confirmed case of the new coronavirus was announced and hours later, it was announced that Boise State would be moving classes online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. 

With this major disruption and a growing number of coronavirus cases confirmed in Idaho, there seems to be less ambiguity about just how concerned we should be.

The term “social distancing” was unfamiliar to most as of a few months ago, but it is common sense: the fewer people everyone comes in close contact with, the slower the disease will spread. 

Though COVID-19 is now a global pandemic, the most effective efforts to stifle it and other diseases historically have involved social distancing. Both China and South Korea primarily encouraged, or mandated, social distancing tactics like self-isolation or self-quarantine, and China — where the coronavirus originated — is seeing significant declines in new cases.

But social distancing is not easy. For students, social distancing could mean returning home to unsafe or unstable environments. Social isolation can mean being left to our own vices, allowing our mental health to spiral out of control.

In these moments, it is easy to feel alone and afraid, even if you are not worried about your physical health. The coronavirus is doing more than upsetting schedules for Idahoans, just as it has been for over three months now around the world. In stressful situations like this, it is more important than ever to come together in a community — while limiting that community to smaller groups or, maybe, not in person at all.

Many people have questions about social distancing and what the “rules” are. In general, it may be best to think of this issue as not only what we should be able to do, but what we should do to protect our communities. 

Social distancing is not stifling us. It is an exercise of self-care and an extension of community care.

Though most college students are young adults and likely do not have much to fear even if they catch the coronavirus, our anxieties about COVID-19 should be validated. Not only is making comments like “the coronavirus is no worse than the flu” factually incorrect, but it is also ignorant and dismissive of valid concerns. 

The novelty of the coronavirus means researchers are still scrambling to understand how it works and how to stop it, particularly among the most vulnerable citizens like those over the age of 60 or those who are immunocompromised. Most people likely know someone in one or both of those categories, with or without being aware that they do.

Additionally, as people’s lives are shuffled around, those with anxiety (and, at this point, who doesn’t?) are experiencing heightened stress. A pandemic is a stressor that everyone can relate to, and being apathetic towards other people’s concerns is dangerous for our communities.

With the right approach, the term “social isolation” can actually become a misnomer. Our technologies can do more than ever to bring us together for the sake of curbing the coronavirus and thriving as a community to do so.

Whether you are stressed about having to possibly move home for the rest of the semester or anxious about job security, this is the time to reach out to your friends, communities and whatever resources are available. In our time of being separate, we may never be more united. 

For specific information regarding social distancing and how it works, the Center for Disease Control has guidelines.

The Arbiter is making a page for frequently asked questions and has ongoing coverage of the coronavirus at Boise State.

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