Isolation during COVID-19 (image from pixabay.com)

COVID-19 and the toll of isolation

I admit that I haven’t been sympathetic to people who demand to reopen in the midst of this pandemic. When I listen to calls to reopen restaurants, businesses, and schools, I shake my head in dismay. When large crowds gather for maskless beach parties, I mutter something under my breath about Darwin and tempting fate. When a local newspaper reported that a 71-year-old “social butterfly” died of COVID-19, I wonder why someone would be so foolish to risk their lives by going to a party. I’ve been able to wear a mask, work from home, and social distance. What’s wrong with them?

That’s when I noticed the toll isolation takes on my life.

Because my job involves working with international teams, I start work before everyone else in our home is up. Even when they wake up, I’m holed up in our home office by myself. I interact primarily with coworkers through email and the occasional Microsoft Teams meeting.

This has worked out so far. But today, I drove past my office for the first time in four and a half months. I was on my way to get a COVID-19 test that was provided by the city. It made me realize how much I miss the interaction of an office and the sense of normalcy. It is helpful to be around coworkers. Emails and Microsoft Teams meetings aren’t always a good substitute for walking down the hall to get a question answered or work with actual equipment.

It is also helpful for kids to be in school. It’s hard for them to be away from their friends. They are missing pieces of their education, especially the social interaction from classmates and personal mentorship from teachers.

We know these restrictions are needed for our health and safety. Although they seem to be going on forever, we know they will end at some point. But we must also recognize that these come with a cost that might be too much for some people. There are those would rather die than be alone.

If we are going to reach out to people who chafe against the closures and restrictions that are necessary in this pandemic, we should understand how badly these people are being affected. We can turn them away from false promises and conspiracy theories by offering them understanding, comfort, and honest hope. Following the best advice of doctors and scientists is how we’re going to beat this pandemic. And putting up with discomfort and inconvenience in the short term will enable us to function until the threat of this virus subsides.

We must resist the push to scorn and shame those who resist needed safety measures because, frankly, this approach doesn’t work. Instead, we can share our own sense of isolation and our desire to return to some form of functionality and how following science will get us there.

I want to be able to work in the office, my granddaughter to go back to school, restaurants and businesses to reopen, and the fear to be lifted. Just like it takes time and following a doctor’s orders to recover from a major illness or surgery, we have to do the same with this global pandemic.

I promise to be more patient with those who struggle with the restrictions, and I need to be more patient with myself with my own struggles. Let’s remember that the only way we will get through this is to do it together.

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