The Danger of Pseudo Distancing

Has “social distancing” become a trendy label that masks true risk?

Lost

As businesses re-open around the US, I feel lost. Workplaces, businesses, and politicians don’t seem to offer trustworthy guidance on what is safe to actually do. They all have ulterior motives and reasons to not care about the collateral damage. How do we figure this out for ourselves?

I live in one of the states that has decided to reopen despite rising coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. Our governor downplays the spike in new cases, while independent journalists mention increases in hospitalizations and decreases in available hospital beds. People are bored, and although coronavirus hasn’t changed, people’s attitudes have.

Stay Home Forever?

In a way I get it; we can’t stay inside forever. On the other hand, I don’t get it: literally no one is suggesting we stay inside “forever” — in fact, we were only on a loose stay at home order for two weeks, which was extended for two more weeks, and is now over. There is a huge difference between being asked to stay at home for the rest of your life, and being willing to stay at home until we have information beyond, “We’ve got hospital beds open for you to die in!”

Losing Friends?

Friends ask me to go out to newly open restaurants and bars that they promise have “socially distanced” seating. I refuse, and seem like I’m paranoid. A curmudgeon. I wonder if I will lose friends over this. Do they think I’m judging them? Are they judging me?

The thing is, I don’t believe in social distancing. Not in the way you might be thinking. What I mean is, I don’t believe people will actually stay the CDC-recommended six feet apart. Yes, of course some people are doing that. But in my personal experience, I see people throwing around “social distancing” as more of a moniker to justify doing whatever they want, without actually staying far apart enough to be lessening risk. This is what I call pseudo distancing.

Pseudo Distancing

Slapping on the moniker of “social distancing” relieves people of accountability. It gives them a socially aware filter to be seen through, like an Instagram filter for seeming responsible without having to sacrifice anything. It’s what trendy liberals love to use to differentiate themselves from the “redneck” stereotypes who scream about haircuts and Applebees. Bad rednecks refuse to wear masks. Hip liberals sling a mask around their neck for show and use “socially distanced” as a new buzzword instead of 1) actually following it as medical advice or 2) just staying home.

Look Safe without the Bore of Being Safe!

“We’re taking a socially distanced hike,” say friends, who then walk within inches of each other for hours and take cheek-to-cheek selfies.

“We’re taking socially distanced precautions,” say workplace managers, who then allow employees to work in spaces that are less than six square feet altogether.

“Let’s do a ‘socially-distanced’ cocktail hour!” The phrase has become almost glib, almost tongue-in-cheek, almost cute. Like it’s a trendy theme to apply with a wink, rather than the only piece of advice to cling to during an ongoing pandemic that has killed over 100,000 people in the US.

My thoughts are, if things are bad enough that we need to be socially distanced, then things are bad enough that it’s not worth it to go to a restaurant or bar or party.

And are people forgetting that the CDC now says that coronavirus can indeed linger in the air? So even if people sit down genuinely six feet apart, if we all enter through the same door, we are being exposed to the same potentially contaminated air. Remember the case of the restaurant air conditioner allegedly infecting a whole restaurant?

But we are bored and we have no stamina. Our sense of invincibility/being a special exception is creeping back in — COVID-19 is something other people experience; we think we are a special exception. Our lungs won’t fill with fluid. Our organs won’t experience long-term damage. We won’t have a stroke. Bad things happen to other people, right? That freezer truck parked at our hospital won’t be for our loved ones’ bodies. Right? Don’t you think the people who are in there thought that too?

I texted my friend, “I don’t want to be lulled into complacency.” Autocorrect turned “lulled” into “killed.” Not wrong, I thought.

Room to Respect “Not Ready Yet”

For the record, I understand that maybe the US got too late of a start and did too bad of a job handling coronavirus to fully mitigate the risk. I understand that at this point, it’s less about abolishing the risk and more about risk management. What that risk management looks like might be different to different people in different parts of the country. That’s a given! What I am arguing for is room for people to say, “Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it’s safe for me, for my level of vulnerability, for my risk management.” And this includes,

“Just because a place or event espouses ‘social distancing’ doesn’t mean I trust that people will truly stay six feet apart — or that it even makes things safe enough if they do.”

If in a year from now, we still have hardly any treatment, no vaccine, and no projected way to contain this, will I still feel this way? Probably not. Will I give in to “pseudo distancing”? Possibly. But again, no one is suggesting we stay at home forever. No one is even suggesting we stay at home for a year. I am simply thinking, “I can handle staying at home for at least another week, another month, another few months.” I can handle staying home for now. We live in a world where we can no longer assign timelines. There is only “for now.”

Can I stay at home forever? No. For now? Yes. I would rather stay at home until we learn more, than take unnecessary risks during this pandemic as people use the moniker of social distancing when what they are really doing is pseudo distancing.

Self-help through a sociological lens. Creative Writing MFA. Sociology + Gender Studies B.S. ●Nuance isn’t dead● chelseykburden@gmail.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store