Isolation is not the American way

shutterstock_343676492

Image by Shutterstock.

Since 1937, the Army has maintained a ceaseless vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The Tomb stands above the grave of an unknown World War I soldier. His body was exhumed from an unmarked battlefield burial in France and brought back to the United States. A cannon fired when his casket was lowered, long ago, to his final resting place in the crypt. And for decades he has been watched over by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry—“The Old Guard”—every hour of every day, regardless of weather conditions.

It’s a powerful image: “You will never be alone.”

In this country, we embrace individualism. We admire independence. But we don’t accept loneliness.

Yet, loneliness is on the rise and has been even before the coronavirus era. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 13 percent of all households were single-person homes in 1960. By 2018, that number grew to 28 percent.

Living alone, on its own, is not necessarily an indicator of loneliness. Until the last few months, home was a base where one could spring from and enjoy camaraderie at work or meet up with friends at a favorite establishment—satisfying the need for human contact. Lately, for far too many, home has been an isolation zone. No work. No visitors. No human contact. And having hundreds, or even thousands, of friends on social media is no substitute for in-person connections.

We know how tough loneliness can be on people, but we swiftly adopted isolation tactics anyway. COVID-19, and the immediate threat of health care systems being overwhelmed, created nearly full cooperation of an entire country to self-isolate. But while 40 – 50 days to “slow the spread” may have been necessary, some want another four or five months of continued restrictions.

The ability or strength to ward off loneliness is one of those human characteristics that is different for all of us.

For some, the need for human connection is strong and they’re ready to return to pre-coronavirus life. They want the freedom to go where they want to go, do what they want to do, see who they want to see, and not be muzzled with a mask. Successfully battling loneliness is most important to them.

Other individuals prefer not to leave their property and will wear a mask doing outdoor gardening—just in case a neighbor should happen to get too close. They have a high threshold for tolerating loneliness, and their priority is keeping themselves and their family safe.

Many are somewhere in between. The virus has likely permanently changed some behaviors. The way they interact with others may never be fully restored to pre-coronavirus days, but they’re ready to go out in the world again.

All of these ways of dealing with loneliness can be respected. Nobody needs to be corona-shamed, no matter what their personal thoughts are on isolation.

But it’s good to recognize that loneliness that comes from isolation is real. Some aren’t wired for surviving a long lockdown.

The absolute, worst thing you can do to a prison inmate is throw him or her into solitary confinement. It’s not the physical environment that makes it the ultimate punishment. The solitary confinement cell is only somewhat worse than the prisoner’s regular cell. The trauma comes from removing all human contact with the prisoner.

It’s a brutal statement: “You are alone.”

The lockdown was necessary for a while. Sufficient access to health care had to be assured. But as long as there are empty beds in hospital rooms and unemployed health care workers, it’s hard to advocate for continued and forced restrictions.

All this loneliness is not our way.

Country needs our protection from pandemic, too

coronovirus

Image by Shutterstock.

Nobody knew the number “15” could be so challenging and deadly. Challenging for citizens to do their best to social distance for at least 15 days, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Deadly to our nation’s economy.

Despite this, we’ve been a mostly cooperative group because Americans tend to be try-hards when it comes to protecting our citizens. Our regulation nation does whatever it can to protect us from every disease, accident and tragedy.

That we’ll all be safe and well is what everyone wants, but we can never fully succeed in that quest. Living is still, and always will be, a risky business. According to the National Safety Council, nearly 39,000 died in car accidents last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that recent past flu seasons have seen as many as 61,000 deaths in one year. Based on data from the National Institute of Mental Health, 47,000 died from suicide in 2017. And the National Cancer Institute says that nearly 610,000 died from cancer in 2018.

These casualties were important, too—all people loved by someone. But none of these diseases, accidents or tragedies triggered a complete shutdown of our economy.

We’re braking hard right now for the global pandemic and national emergency that is COVID-19. It’s already taken hundreds of American lives, and it will take many more. The majority of deaths from this virus occur in the elderly, who also have serious underlying health conditions.

According to the CDC, the virus has an incubation of 2 – 14 days after exposure before symptoms may appear. It makes the “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” plan sound reasonable.

Nursing homes, schools, churches, restaurants, bars, sporting events, festivals, concerts, non-profit fundraising dinners, and many small businesses and large corporations have been shuttered during this time. It’s an effort to reduce personal contacts in order to reduce the number of infections and hospitalizations. Flattening the curve can avoid spikes that could overwhelm our health care providers.

But grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and essential businesses remain open and are continuing to receive foot traffic. People still need food, gas, medicine, and other essential supplies and services. Turns out that immobilizing 300,000,000 people for long periods of time just isn’t that easy. Basic human needs must still be met.

It’s too soon to tell whether or not 15 days will flatten the curve. The experts could be right, or they could be wrong. At this point, it doesn’t matter.

If they’re right and it worked, we can take what we’ve learned about virus containment and slowly and cautiously restart our economy. If the experts are wrong and it didn’t work, we have to seriously question the amount of public good that can be done by continuing restrictions.

For example, coronavirus cases are soaring in New York City. Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, stated, “Clearly, the virus has been circulating there for a number of weeks…” It’s possible that the virus is already too far ahead of us.

What we do know, though, is that our economy went from robust and healthy to one that is on life support. Whether the experts are right or wrong, at the end of this 15-day period, it will be time to make an adjustment in favor of restoring economic health.

We can continue to protect the elderly, children, and those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions. Let their 15 days become 15 weeks, if necessary.

For the rest of us—who are healthy and able to work—be ready for the call to get this country’s economy back on the move.

Even one coronavirus death is too many. But our country is dying and needs our protection, too.