As cases of COVID-19 begin to be diagnosed in our towns, Cape residents are taking social distancing seriously.
“We’ve been really rigorous about it. No play dates. No socializing with friends,” said Beau Valtz of Wellfleet, whose daughter and her best friend just received college admission offers. “We were going to have a celebratory brunch on Saturday. Then we called each other and decided it wasn’t smart.”
Clinical psychologist Jonathan Runge, who practices in Provincetown, is seeing patients via Zoom and said most of his clients are isolating themselves. “You still have to go to the market,” he said, but everyone seems to be taking precautions. “I don’t have any patients who are saying they’re not doing anything.”
Social distancing — avoiding close physical contact and limiting interactions with groups of people outside the home — is vital to flattening the curve of coronavirus, even in a rural area like the Cape.
Dr. Roger Shapiro studies infectious disease at Harvard Medical School. He told the Independent that social distancing is easier to achieve in rural places than big urban centers. “We hope the speed of the virus will be slower in rural areas. But the importance [of social distancing] is the same, no matter where we are,” he said. Even if there are few cases on the Cape, “The time to say some communities don’t have to practice social distancing is long past.”
Contradictory information about what is and isn’t safe is circulating on the internet. Confusion may arise from the fact that social distancing can mean different things in different situations, Shapiro said. Inside spaces, like grocery stores, likely have higher concentrations of virus than outdoors, so staying away from others is more important inside than on the sidewalk.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the virus can live on surfaces for several hours. If you touch your face after opening the door to the grocery store, you might get infected. But the CDC does not recommend wearing gloves on outings. What’s more important is washing your hands immediately after coming home and making sure to wipe down surfaces that you touch in the interim. And don’t touch your face! The Washington Post recently reported on how to stay safe when grocery shopping.
Shapiro said that staying six feet away from others is always a good idea in public. At home, anyone who may have been exposed should be isolated from other household members. After two weeks of strict social distancing in the home with no symptoms, it’s unlikely that any household member is sick, and the rules can relax.
Social distancing is important for everyone to practice. It can also be a challenge.
“Isolation is never good,” Runge said. “In general, it feeds depression.”
To stay connected, Runge suggests calling or video chatting with loved ones instead of just texting. “That’s one of the silver linings of this crisis — we actually have more time now to talk to each other,” he said.
Small interactions with strangers can also help. “Just being able to walk, to see others, is a way to stay engaged,” Runge said. “Most people on the street say hello now and smile. If you make eye contact, you make a connection.”
Those who are feeling stressed or lonely should consider treating themselves to some self-care. Runge suggests trying to soothe all five senses. For sight, look at pictures of loved ones, places you’ve traveled, or pretty landscapes. Eat delicious, comforting food. Sniff lavender or eucalyptus. Listen to upbeat music or calming sounds like rain.
Especially for people living alone, “physical contact and intimacy make us feel connected,” he said. “If you can’t do that in this situation, there are ways to substitute touch that are also comforting. If you have a nice fuzzy blanket, wrap yourself in it. Take a warm bath. Use a heating pad.”
Mindfulness exercises can also help manage anxiety, and Runge recommends using apps like Headspace and Calm.
Melinda Krasting of Truro lives alone and said that her dogs, nature, and FaceTime are the best medicine for loneliness. She says visiting the beach every day and meditating also help.
“I’m very lucky so far that I have not felt too depressed or lonely,” Krasting said. “But I’m conscious of the possibility that any of us may go that direction. I’m fighting things like watching too much news on the TV. I’ll catch myself and turn on music and dance instead.”
Learning From Isolation
“There are lessons in everything,” said David Psathas of Wellfleet, who has lived alone for 20 years. “There was a very conscious learning process to feel comfortable being this way. It’ll teach you to be stronger and figure out things to do to entertain yourself,” he said. “There shouldn’t be anything wrong with calling someone up and saying how you feel. That’s what your friends are for.”
Finding purposeful projects to fill time can also help. Krasting is planting her vegetable garden, and in doing so, is turning fear into “something that keeps me busy and gives me a sense of control over my life.”
Runge said it’s important to focus on the big picture. “We’re all in this together. We’re all feeling strange and disconnected. Eventually, it will go back to normal,” he said. “We need to reframe the thought from ‘This is forever’ to ‘This is just temporary.’ ”
The Vocabulary of Staying Apart
|Social distancing||Deliberately increasing the physical distance between people to avoid spreading coronavirus. Stay 6 feet away from others in public and avoid groups, gatherings, and other situations where people are close together.|
|Self-quarantine||If you may have been exposed (from traveling or interacting with someone diagnosed with COVID-19), limit interactions with everyone for 14 days. Stay home and isolate yourself from others in your household. This provides enough time to ensure you will not spread the disease if you are infected. If no symptoms develop in 14 days, it is unlikely you have been infected.|
|Self-isolation||If you have symptoms or were diagnosed with COVID-19, stay home, separated from everyone, including pets, in the household. Call your doctor. Ask friends to shop for you and leave groceries at your door.|
|Shelter in place||Stay home, avoid socializing with anyone outside the home, and leave only for essentials like groceries or pharmacy items. Limit unnecessary outings.|
|Quarantine||Government-imposed strict limits on movement. You may be allowed to leave home only for essentials at certain times of day and cannot travel. This minimizes interactions with anyone outside your household and slows the spread of the virus.|
|Lockdown (nursing homes)||No outside visitors allowed, no group meetings, no outings, and only essential staff come to work. This limits the possibility of the virus entering the at-risk community.|