Not all COVID stories start with a cough and end with a vaccine. Many narratives have another beginning and end: Social isolation, then chronic loneliness. There's a second pandemic that nobody talks about: A mental health disaster that will be just as destructive as the "main" crisis. Three-quarters of Americans felt lonely, at least occasionally, in 2020, while 7 percent felt lonely from the start of the pandemic.
Social isolation persists. Parents haven't seen children. Grandchildren haven't seen grandparents. Some of us in theatrical exhibition and distribution haven't been to work in a year. And all this takes its toll on our collective mental health. But as cases decline across the U.S., more of us are thinking about meeting loved ones. And perhaps we can — at a safe distance and by following local health guidelines.
#1. Meet Outside
It's still cold in most parts of the country, but could we meet our loved ones outside? What science says: Outdoor activities present a lower COVID risk than indoor activities, but we should still be cautious. The CDC warns the longer we spend interacting with others, the higher the risk of COVID spread. But we can reduce this spread by practicing preventive actions.
Preventative actions like:
- Keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer, with at least 60 percent alcohol, on us at all times.
- Sanitizing our hands again and again and again.
- Keeping 6 feet apart.
- Wearing masks.
- Limiting the number of interactions.
- Limiting interaction frequency.
#2. Create a COVID Pod
COVID "pods" are supportive social bubbles between two household groups. You extend your social network by linking up with another family or friendship group. The benefits? You won't have to "social distance" with people in your pod. It's as if you're all part of the same household.
Pods can reduce loneliness _and _limit social interactions with the rest of society. The question is: Who's going to be in your pod?
#3. Wait It Out
We're going to have to social distance for quite a while yet. But with ever-surging vaccine numbers, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Isolation can be tough. It causes all kinds of mental health implications, from anxiety to severe depression. But things will get back to normal again. They always do.
You might prefer to wait it out and limit social interactions for a little longer. Perhaps until you receive a vaccine. Or until cases in your community plummet. In the meantime, keep positive, keep messaging loved ones, and focus on your Zoom etiquette.
Before You Leave Us
Ultimately, it's your call. If it's not illegal to meet loved ones outside or form a "pod." Social contact, no matter how brief, could benefit your mental health. Still, you'll want to weigh up the health risks, especially if you are medically vulnerable.
Do you feel lonely at home? Tell us about it. Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation has resources for theatrical exhibition and distribution workers affected by the pandemic, including financial aid and supportive counseling. Learn more_._