Socializing keeps us healthy and happy. How do we deal with social distancing due to coronavirus?

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Coronavirus is changing life quickly Southern California. Now a long list of companies, colleges, and universities have shifted their operations online. Many people are working from home and practicing social distancing. This can be good for public health, but in some cases, people might be taking it too far. We speak with Dr. Michael Wilkes, a professor of medicine and public health at UC Davis.

People are standing or sitting farther away from others when talking. They’re not touching, not hugging, and in some cases, wearing gloves. How necessary is all of this?

Dr. Michael Wilkes: “I'm also concerned that it's overblown, but not from a public health perspective. I do think it's necessary. I think the wearing of gloves and masks has gotten a little bit crazy. Under most circumstances, [they] are not necessary. Where they are necessary is the person who's obviously sick, and it's to protect us from them, not them from us. 

The gloves are the craziest. People, as I see walking around wearing gloves in elevators and shopping centers, it's crazy. First of all, you can't wash your hands. Second of all, you're still spreading everything that was there before. So gloves, again, in most circumstances are not particularly helpful. 

But this idea of social distancing is important. It needs to be reasonable. There needs to be a buffer. But so much of this depends on where you are, and the environment you're in. And six feet is a big distance. And when possible, that's great. But there are lots of us who live and work in environments where you just can't be six feet away from each other, particularly in medicine, but in lots of other areas as well.”

Some people are concerned about a lack of personal interaction and touch. Are you hearing about this from patients?

Wilkes gives three examples from the previous day: 

“I was working in the clinic, and the first patient ... was in tears. And a patient or two later, I walked in, and she was asleep. And a patient or two after that, I came in, and was a gentleman who was completely intoxicated. … It's a reminder that we all deal with this in different ways. 

But they're all scared. They all don't know what to do. And I think all three of those people were feeling isolated and alone. So yes, I'm seeing this.

… I did not see anybody yesterday afternoon who even came close to having COVID-19 type symptoms. But the fallout is profound.”

How do you make sure you’re having person-to-person interactions -- while dealing with social distancing and just the sheer volume of changes that are coming our way?

“I do think that we want to be very careful to not lose our social connections, and things like meditation, and relaxing, and deep breathing, and stretching. Making sure we eat healthy meals, not forgetting the parts of our life that make us healthy. Things like exercising, sleep, and really going full force to try to engage in positive thinking, and being careful not to slip into alcohol and drugs to help us relax.”

Are there signs we should look for when it comes to children, family, and friends who might be dealing with anxiety? 

“I think that kids particularly often withdraw. I think that adults have a tendency to do that too. There's no one sign. But it is perhaps a challenge for our listeners this weekend: reach out to someone … maybe who you don't know very well (an isolated neighbor, maybe the letter carrier, custodian) and just talk to them. Give them a cookie or a piece of candy, but do something that closes that distance and reminds us we're all in this together.”




Chery Glaser


Darrell Satzman, Amy Ta