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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

At first I was discouraged to see predictions in the media that social distancing will be around for weeks or until the end of the summer or even for six months or longer. But a little internet surfing showed that “social distancing” doesn’t mean “lockdown” and although the definitions of both terms are fluid, they are not the same thing.

Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. For example, a Vox article referred to the recent demonstrations as “anti-social-distancing rallies” in one sentence and then further down as “anti-lockdown protests.” (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/4/22/21227928/coronavirus-social-distancing-lockdown-trump-tea-party ) At first I thought the journalist was trying to avoid repetition, as any writer does, but later, when they threw in the term “quarantine protests,”as if it were just another synonym, I realized that they were more interested in sowing confusion than in clarifying what the demonstrators’ goals actually were.

The Lazaretto of Milan, a quarantine enclosure for plague victims, built in 1488.

As a medical term, “social distancing” first appeared in 2003 (Merriam-Webster). The World Health Organization recently proposed substituting “physical distancing,” as a suggestion that social connections are still important. I like the idea, but so far “social distancing” is the common term.

Then there’s “quarantining.” Although the practice of “isolating” or “quarantining” people with infectious diseases has been around since Biblical times, those terms apply to people who are already sick or suspected to be exposed, not to the entire population.

The CDC defines “social distancing” as simply “keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home.” Note that it says OUTSIDE of your home, meaning that you have to leave home to do it. The only practices specified for COVID-19 are staying 6 feet apart and avoiding crowds. Practices such as wearing masks, working from home, or distance learning are brought into the discussion further down, but are not part of the definition. See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html.

Lockdown is not a public health term. It a public policy that restricts people’s movements and commercial activity. Many countries including Italy, Greece, Spain, France, India, China, and the UK have implemented lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the United States, each state determines its own policy, often referred to as “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home.” The specific terms of each lockdown and the degree of enforcement vary widely. Some countries, like some states, are just beginning to lift restrictions gradually.

As lockdown restrictions lift, I predict we will see more discussion of social distancing: how it applies to each workplace, entertainment venue, school, and recreational area. Actual implementation will vary. The debate will shift to what’s realistic, what’s achievable, and what matters. At the same time, we face a shifting COVID-19 environment: learning more about how it spreads, how to treat it, how to prevent it.

Some things will change and some things will stay the same.

And we will move on.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“A Guide to State Coronavirus Reopenings and Lockdowns,” Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-state-by-state-guide-to-coronavirus-lockdowns-11584749351

“A third of the global population is on coronavirus lockdown–here’s our constantly updated list of countries locking down and opening up,” Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/countries-on-lockdown-coronavirus-italy-2020-3

“Trader Joe’s reveals why it refuses to offer grocery pickup or delivery, even as people beg the chain to make changes,” Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/trader-joes-wont-offer-grocery-pickup-and-delivery-2020-4

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

Source of pictures:

Chinese schoolroom: New York Daily News, April 27, 2020, from the South China Morning Post. https://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/ny-kids-china-big-hats-social-distancing-20200427-ef23h3lronhoxkd2yo7kgrvbim-story.html

Danish schoolroom: CNN, April 17, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/17/europe/denmark-coronavirus-first-school-intl/index.html

Lazaretto: Thompson, John D. and Grace Goldin. The Hospital: A Social and Architectural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975. p. 52.

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