WTF? Or MWF? COVID-19 reflections on shared time and space

In this “novel reality” that we’ve labeled the COVID-19 pandemic, we find that we have to reshape our connections to family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. Being in the 60+ crowd, I am aware that the hospitalization and fatality rate for my peers is much, much higher than for younger people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes us as having “higher risk for severe illness.”

At the local, state, and national level, we are now being asked to stay indoors and practice “social distancing.” We’ve always practiced social distancing in some form, keeping one to two feet away from even our closest friends as we chat about life over coffee or as we stroll along the Bonneville Shoreline trail. Today, however, we are being asked to expand this distance to six feet. This isn’t an unreasonable request given the infectious nature of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes this particular coronavirus disease. It’s an easy guideline to remember and implement, even if you’re off by a foot.

DC Mayor Murel Bowser and her staff practice appropriate distancing (what I call novel distancing) during a press briefing.

In this press briefing, President Trump requires the press to observe appropriate distancing while he and his staff do not practice the same recommendation.

We are also being asked to stay home as much as possible. This is where things get sticky.

The CDC recognizes the value of regular exercise to our well-being, especially for seniors, and most COVID-19 prevention guidelines allow for walking, running, or cycling outside, as long as you are asymptomatic and maintaining that six-foot buffer. I understand. COVID-19 bad. Exercise good. Protect yourself.

Our weather this week has been a bit iffy for getting outside...

But I see groups of unrelated children and young adults playing in the parks or walking the sidewalks and trails during the day, seemingly oblivious to the new social distancing recommendations. Many of us were shocked by the photos of the families at the Salt Lake International Airport, welcoming home their missionary children while ignoring the social distancing guidelines. There is no doubt that some children and missionaries are carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Why aren't parents more concerned?

Families and friends meeting returning missionaries at SLC, despite the directives of both the LDS Church and airport officials to prevent crowds.

I think there are two reasons for this lack of concern. One, we are being inundated with the message that age and the presence of “underlying medical conditions” are the key variables in determining whether a person is truly at risk. I suspect many parents think to themselves, “Whew! Our kids dodged that age-related bullet. Now, get out of the house and play!” Of course, some of these kids become carriers and disseminators of the virus, infecting new people.

The other primary message is that if you are 60+, you should hunker down and close the doors. Today I received a message the Bear River Health Department distributed to local faith groups. "In Utah, our modeling indicates that we are likely to see a significant increase in cases that will peak the latter part of April, at which time we are hopeful that the curve will begin a decline. Would you please strongly encourage those who are 60 and over, who are immunocompromised, or have some sort of underlying health condition regardless of age to remain home and away from contact with others? This single intervention will save lives and flatten the curve of what is projected to come."

WTF? CDC states, "As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health." This pandemic is not going to be gone in 15 or 30 days. So the consequences of having those seniors remain home for months is contrary to protecting their health.

My question is, why are seniors being asked to shelter in place? We need to be walking, running, and cycling, not watching more television. We need to have access to a virus-free outdoor experience even more than younger people.

I have a simple solution. Give seniors Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to enjoy the sidewalks, parks, and trails. The rest of you can have Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend (for many of us retirees, every day is a weekend). That way we all get to experience both sheltering in place and recreating outside. Or split every day... seniors get until 2 PM-ish, and everyone else can have the rest of the day (or vice versa). 

Seniors (Robert, not Caroline) need to be able to exercise without fear of infection.

I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, and living through months of self-isolation is not going to be pleasant for anyone. There are some who argue we can flatten the curve, but we will not reduce the overall number of people who get affected, with perhaps 40-70% of the world's population eventually getting COVID-19.

But I do think that we all need to share the burden. Telling seniors to wall themselves off is not the answer, and mixing with asymptomatic people who actually have the virus is life-threatening. 


A version of this article was sent to the Salt Lake Tribune as a commentary.  They chose not to publish it.


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