Social Distancing and Cell Phones

(Disclaimer:  I do not work in or have credentials for any field of healthcare or public health.  The views in this blog post are influenced by personal experience and advice I’ve received through the mainstream media.)

During the past couple of months, I’ve made very few trips out of my apartment.  Even before people in San Francisco were told to stay at home, I was reacting to an agoraphobic relapse and concern about COVID-19.

I feel fortunate.  Presumably, my recent circumstances gave me protection that some other people didn’t have.  If I was exposed to the virus at some point before taking the extreme precautions I take now, the exposure was probably minimal and my immune system handled it.  As a psychological comfort, I keep thinking if I’ve been an unknowing carrier at any time I didn’t contribute too much to this nightmare.  I don’t know that, though, and none of us can change the past.

If I’m asked by a trusted professional (such as my own doctor) to consent to a test for the virus or the antibody, I’ll go along with it.  However, for now I don’t feel any urgency.  Presently, the priorities are staying at home and checking on friends by phone or text if they disappear from Facebook for very long.  Wish me luck on not driving those friends over the edge.

Social media and other modern tech stuff have been helpful to many of us during this pandemic.  Provided there isn’t too long a waiting list, we can order necessary items online, and have them delivered (whenever possible, tip the delivery person electronically).  By using Skype, we can actually see people who are important to us without being in the same room.  We can share silly jokes on Twitter and offer limited emotional support when we see a post from someone who has lost a loved one.  We can even choose a comforting book to read on a moment’s notice, thanks to electronic library resources and e-book retailing.

Maybe it was just done differently (and almost as efficiently?) in the past when we had to isolate more thoroughly, but at the moment I wouldn’t give up my computer or smartphone for anything — except maybe a promise that this horrific situation would go away.

We won’t get anything that great in return for giving up our tech gadgets, so let’s consider how we can use them well — or poorly.

Yesterday, I went out for groceries and drugstore merchandise.  It was a planned, calculated project that wasn’t complete until after I arrived home, put the clothes I’d worn in the washer and washed my hair in the shower.  I also wiped down some of the groceries and left the others with my purse to sit for several days before they’ll be touched again.  The keys were wiped down, and they’re within reach when I need them for twice weekly trips to the lobby mailbox.

Yesterday, I did not take my phone with me because it seemed better not to touch it until after decontaminating.  That way, it didn’t have to be wiped down and didn’t pose an infection threat.

Someone I saw during that outing had his phone, though.  He was focused on the screen, and ignoring his surroundings on the public sidewalk.  I walked clear around him (a wide turn, in that case), but while I was using the ATM he walked up and began using the machine next to the one I was using.  The teller machines were spaced fewer than six feet apart.  Both were working, but the social distancing rules suggest they shouldn’t be used simultaneously.

We’re all going to make mistakes like that, and it seems unlikely any harm resulted from us standing there for a minute.  We didn’t face each other, cough, sneeze or speak, and we were both wearing masks.  I had washed my hands in my apartment across the street before approaching the machine, and then used hand sanitizer after walking away.

The issue here isn’t necessarily rudeness or selfishness.  I’m sure the man who screwed up by turning the ATM thing into a duet performance was just distracted.  I didn’t say anything, but maybe a polite heads up would have been the right way to handle it — as long as he wasn’t the sort of person who was going to have a fit of temper.  I didn’t know him, so perhaps keeping my piece was best.

The issue is unnecessary distractions.  For as long as cell phones have been around, they’ve been a source of distraction.  Misuse causes accidents and tests the patience of that person who just wants to get through the doorway after you’ve stopped there to check e-mail.

Distractions are especially dangerous right now.  We don’t know how many asymptomatic people are walking around with this virus that may cause another person’s death.  We must stay mentally focused whenever we’re in public places or places where we might indirectly exchange microbes with others.  We must remember not to touch store merchandise that we aren’t going to buy, and take other precautions that never occurred to us before now.

Whether to take your phone with you when you leave home is your judgment call.  You might need it, and you might be ready to deal with the disadvantages of having it with you.  Be alert to the disadvantages, though, and do not allow anything on your phone to prevent you from keeping your attention on what’s most important right now:  Protecting yourself and others from tragedy.

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