COVID-19 Vocabulary #3

Day 3 of reflecting on the new vocabulary common to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the desirable social distancing, our almost painful new reality, and the politically sensitive face mask.  

Social Distancing: Once upon a time, this was a phrase implying the appropriate distancing when carrying on a conversation or standing in a public area. Social politeness required the respecting for the personal space of others, mainly when talking. When personal space is invaded, most people automatically back away. No specific distance has been the standard since personal space was person-specific.

During this public health crisis, officials asked everyone to practice physical distancing of at least 6 feet from people not in our bubble (usually the family group). As a standard health practice, this makes sense. Implementing this strategy is difficult in life situations. Suddenly little discs have appeared outside of stores for waiting to enter. Checkouts have floor feet indicating to stand on them to checkout. Since it is impractical to be 6 feet away during checkout, clear barriers substitute for social distancing. Reminder signs appear to remind us to reduce face-to-face contact through social distancing. Restaurant seating has been reduced indoors to accommodate table groupings, and outdoor seating has sprung up, even in high-end eateries. 

New Reality: Listening to the news adds pandemic terminology each day to our new world. A concept called the “new reality” has overtaken common sense. Suddenly the death of 200,000 + Americans is labeled “a shame.” Telehealth appointments are paid for by insurance. The loss of 4 million jobs is the price we pay for our health. Children are now encouraged to use their laptops, sometimes for up to 5 1/2 hours a day!  

The expectation that we must adapt requires agility of thinking, continuously rethinking how we live our lives. Information is revised repeatedly by previously trustworthy sources, such as the CDC and FDA, sometimes in the span of a few minutes with little or no context. When the nation closed down March 14, it appeared this was a short-term strategy. Now, we anxiously await the day schools will be reopened and restaurants safe. State employees are still teleworking all over the nation. Coffee shops and cafes are shuttered, and businesses closed or their capacity is limited.  

The use of social media as a substitute for personal contact and face-to-face meetings is the norm. Visiting relatives in long-term care is limited to FaceTime. Hugging friends has become virtual, and hand-shaking is now an elbow bump.  

Face Mask:  These have become everyday attire for many Americans, yet remain to some a symbol of political affiliation rather than a health protections. The recommendation to wear or not wear has changed repeatedly, and the appearance of public figures has altered the perception of what their role is in the American culture. Online advertisements and sales of masks have initially become a cottage industry and are now widespread everywhere. Scientific studies emerge daily as to the safety of specific types of masks. Health workers rightfully complain of the shortage of PPE. Many coordinate their masks to their outfits. The public seems to wear them safely, while some treat them as earrings or chin warmers. My 4-year-old grandson wears one every day to pre-school, while my 8-year-old grandson goes to a camp with many kids without one, rather than being able to attend a class where he might acually learn.  

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