How to ‘Handle’ Social Distance in the Face of the Coronavirus

Like many responsible adults, I am taking the CDC and WHO recommendations about halting the spread of the Coronavirus seriously. I have always washed my hands well, covered coughs and sneezes, used hand sanitizer wisely and steered clear of people when I was sick. I have my PCP’s number on speed dial. The only difference is that now I am upping the amps on all of them. Have you seen those memes that remind us to wash our hands as if we had just eaten jalapenos and were about to put in contact lenses? My marching orders are to wash my hands as thoroughly as if I was just about to feed my 7-week old grandson. When I come by to babysit, I wash my hands before touching him, before mixing a bottle, before feeding him and after changing his diaper. It’s amazing that my skin isn’t raw. On my desk, in my office, I have a bottle of hand sanitizer. I keep a mini bottle in my purse or backpack. I spray my couch in my office with Lysol. I wipe down my counters at home daily. All of that stuff is easy compared to avoiding touching my face and even more so, avoiding touching others.

This consummate toucher who facilitates Cuddle Party workshops and does FREE HUGS events has curtailed those activities. I canceled two of the workshops and had planned on going to NYC to embrace willing passersby in a few weeks and called that off. I had planned to host a party for a friend’s birthday this weekend but thought it the better part of valor to reschedule that as well. I have been keeping that proscribed social distance when I before I would have swooped family and friends into hugs; with consent of course. I have to remind myself that it is only temporary, but for now, it is the new normal.

Among my circles are yoga teachers whose classes have been canceled, college professors and students whose classes are now online since campuses are shutting down, musicians whose gigs have been curtailed, a DJ whose jobs have dwindled a bit, small business owners who are worried about keeping the customers streaming through the doors. So far, none of my clients have canceled as a result.

The sad part of all of this is that people have skin hunger that is as essential to meet as food hunger. Without healthy, nurturing touch people fail to thrive. Loneliness is an epidemic as well. Some are socially isolated so keeping ‘social distance’ may isolate them further.

What I have been doing instead is virtual hugs where I wrap my arms around myself as if I was hugging the other person. My grandson is the only person I have been hugging (with the aforementioned precautions) since the onset and he doesn’t seem to care that he is getting extra love.

What I may do is create a sign that reads FREE VIRTUAL HUGS and stroll through my town and see what the reaction is.

I was speaking with a dear friend, Dr. Yvonne Kaye who was a child evacuee and a survivor of the Blitzkrieg in London during WWII about the situation. Here was her response.

“Someone said to me that this virus situation was worse than being in a war. I am sure it is for those who haven’t been in a war. What I learned in that chaos was to take precautions which is what we are being advised to do now and some just defy these simple suggestions.  I liken it to when the air raid sirens blasted out if we didn’t turn off the lights, cover the windows, go into the cellar or shelter. We took it seriously as lives were at stake as is the case. Hygiene matters.”

Others in my circles had this to say.

“Still hugging people. Common sense is important. I wouldn’t hug someone if they were showing symptoms. Have definitely been giving elbow bumps in work situations.”

“It’s been difficult.”

“Many of those passing on the virus are not showing symptoms. May never show symptoms, just spread the virus to others who will get sick.”

“It is hard not to touch my own face.”

“It’s very hard not to hug my parents, family members, and friends. I grew up in a family where we hug and kiss every time we visit people. I’m realizing how physically isolated we have to be at this time, and it’s both hard and sad. I waved to my best friend’s baby from a distance this weekend. It just doesn’t seem natural. I’m also learning that perhaps I should be less close in the future since all germs are really spread this way. It’s a scary paradox how something so good for our souls can cause things so bad for our bodies.”

“I think this is a deep, rich subject and I haven’t seen it fully addressed yet outside of my own thoughts. Some of us remember how we literally broke thru societal norms by giving folks permission to hug in our groups, in our courses, in our wholistic trainings (and to say “I love you” but that’s for another time) so yes, the pulling back feels palpable and just as significant to society as the breakthroughs ever did. We loose so much communication without touch – most of it beneath our conscious ability to even articulate. The power of touch. The soft acceptance of embrace. The blessing of presence in closeness. Irreplacable. There’s a blindness without it. I’m  finding it hard – and sad.”

“Actually, I like it. Sometimes I feel that to be polite, I need to shake someone’s hand when I really don’t want to. Now, I have an excuse not to.”

” I’m making sure to Facetime or Skype friends who are socially isolated (many here in the Bay Area). It’s not the same as a hug, but at least we can see each other & show affection, like air kisses, etc.”

“free elbow bumps!”

“At my “Pebble West” church, almost everyone still shook hands and hugged. And we’re a somewhat older congregation. I found that refreshing. But I think I’ll pass around sanitizer next Sunday…..”

“Still thinking about the implication. We’ve already done some distancing, we’re on Facebook instead of having tea. Seems like a process with big implications. Is it an evolutionary turn toward our dying off, we need touch for good health or are we taking a leap forward into some other way of being human. Ok, I’ll go to the back of the line with the sci-fi nerds.”

Last night as people were gathering and arriving for a class I was teaching, a gal (whom I hug regularly upon greeting) came towards me with open arms. I stopped and said “ oh – I would like to shift to a namaste, and paused for a moment to look at her. There was a chilly wall immediately.
( I might have handled it better) But, even with my explanation of my intentions- travel, being around my elderly mom etc… Others in this group responded with “ I am not about fear, I am not afraid”. I noticed the shame I was experiencing by somehow not being “ spiritually attuned” ( my stuff to unpack). But the truth is there was a broken connection between myself and others in the room which made me ponder- how conscious are we when we are in autopilot to hug and embrace?”

My repsonse to this comment was this: As huggy and touch positive as I am, I have been cautious and respectful of other peoples’ boundaries. It is not about fear. It is about common sense. Indicating that you are somehow less spiritual is like saying you don’t need to practice safe sex since God will protect you from STDs. I offer virtual hugs and make eye contact. It is not forever. I notice people being more compassionate and present as a result.

And a bonus hygiene technique from one of my early adulthood cult classic movies. I see you lather with an-ti-ci-pa-tion.

stock photo ID: 1670196469