Column: How to Keep Your Physical Distance, But Maintain Social Connection

By Barbara Adler

As anxiety mounts, along with illness and death in New York City and around the country, we’ve been asked to hunker down wherever we call home, for whatever period of time we might find ourselves plagued with the novel Coronavirus.

In this time of unprecedented health crisis, unlike any we’ve ever known in our lifetimes, our daily routines have been totally disrupted in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. We’ve been asked to keep our “Social Distance,” and to stay inside unless we are essential workers.

The term, which is now widely used, is inaccurate, and I suggest we start calling this “Physical Distancing,” a phrase I heard mentioned by a doctor on the news, whose name I unfortunately have forgotten but wanted to acknowledge.

I’ve not heard anyone else suggest that physical rather than social distancing would be more accurate, and the main reason that I think it’s important that the term be changed to Physical Distancing is that there has never been a more important time to reach out to actually socialize in those ways left for us to do so. The term is simply confusing. When we wait in line, go to the theatre, ride the subway, or conduct numerous other activities that put us in contact with strangers, we’re not socializing. We’re just randomly seated or standing in the crowded experiences that we formerly encountered every day in NYC life. Now, if we do have to stand in line to pay for essential items, go out for a walk or ride a bike, keeping our physical distance of at least six feet is essential the experts say, to keeping ourselves healthy and reducing the number of virus cases.

Social Interaction, on the other hand, has never been more needed than it is now. Fortunately, we have many different electronic ways to stay in touch with family, friends, neighbors, and those who might be scared and alone, and that has become a lifesaver. For those who are alone, reaching out to them by phone, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or other platforms, to say you hope they’re ok and chat for a while can be so uplifting today. Continuing to be social, keep in touch, or to let someone know you care has never been more important. I’ve been having video chats via Zoom, a free online service that anyone can use regularly with various people. Go here for information using this easy program.

My family, which includes my three children and three grandchildren, have been meeting on Zoom all together on a weekly basis. This includes my daughter and family who live in Tasmania, a daughter and husband who live in Brooklyn, and a son and family in TriBeCa and Water Mill, NY. For us, Zoom has been a lifesaver; a weekly way to check up on everyone, and with two pregnant daughters, fearful as we all are about the Coronavirus, we can see one another and express our concerns, along with basic catch-ups and some laughs.

My partner and I have taken to having scheduled cocktail parties with our friends via Zoom as well, and these have been a way to see and stay in touch with those we’re used to seeing in person. We’re now working on trying to find a way to discuss something other than the virus, which is hard when it’s all we’re consumed with, but we’re working on that. This is a good time to start an online book club with friends, or start a “salon” (a French term from 1800’s, meaning a regular gathering of friends and intellectuals in a room to discuss a one topic or a variety of them.). We have also been calling and hearing from people in Europe and around the globe, which is indicative of how concerned, scared and upset many people are right now.

As a member of Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side, I am now attending all of our meetings via Zoom, which anyone can join in on. On April 7th at 6:30PM,  we’ll be holding our Full board meeting via this platform, and  I encourage all to join in to hear our local elected officials discuss the latest efforts to combat Covid-19,  and listen as the Board discusses and votes on resolutions that our various committees took up last month when life was still quite normal. For information on the meeting  and how to “be there,”  go to the website, where there are instructions on how to join in by computer or tablet or by phone, with or without video, as you choose.

We will get through this together.  I like to think that my fellow Upper West Siders and all New Yorkers are sensible enough to follow the advice of our Governor Cuomo, who has been giving detailed extraordinary reports daily on television, as well as our local elected officials. And for those who are working on the front lines, the men and women in the health care industry who are confronting this virus every day, as well as those essential workers stocking the shelves in food stores and/or delivering, you are the true heroes of our city, and I know we are all very grateful and appreciative. May everyone stay safe and heathy.

COLUMNS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. Phoebe says:

      Omg talk about mental distancing—from common sense. Lordy. Social distancing just means being social, but from a distance. Lol.

    2. Gary Schulze says:

      Thanks. Barbara. Good to hear from you. I think the person who came up with physical distancing is Dr. Judy Kuriansky.
      Stay safe!

    3. Susan says:

      Was it Dr. Fauci who’d mention that “physical distancing” was more accurate?

      • Barbara Adler says:

        It wasn’t Dr. Fauchi. A variety of people have been suggested to me as the first to use the term physical distancing. I can’t find any definitive answer online, either.

    4. ZooZooB says:

      I love that the writer proposes the phrase “physical distance” and she is not the first to think of this. A friend floated this idea to me, and I posted this on Facebook a week ago to which another friend wisely added the dictum “Physical distance, social connection.” That’s the secret of getting through these times safely and sanely. My FB post of March 22: A friend said why don’t we say we will “physically distance,” because that’s more truthful and less offputtjng than “socially distancing.” When I am 6 feet away from you or alone in my house I can still be social. I can still talk to you on the phone, text you, Skype, etc. I can talk to you when you’re 6 feet away when we’re on the street. I think we should call it what it is and maybe more people would heed the restriction.

      • Barbara Adler says:

        Thanks for your comment. Let’s try together to spread the word. I agree that the more people who use the proper term, the more will heed the wise advice.

    5. Linda S. Alexander says:

      Thank you Barbara for the sensible clarification and sage advice. Love the idea of Zoom cocktail parties and congratulations on the imminent expansion of your family!

    6. Linda Beaty says:

      As usual, great observations, Barbara, and sound advice! Clarifying social from physical distancing is so right! Love the screen shot, too! Zoom cocktail parties are so smart, too, and congratulations on two pregnancies in your beautiful family!!! You are the quintessential voice of the UWS.

    7. katie says:

      Love seeing Barbara Adler!