In a pandemic, physical distancing is not social distancing. Unite now!
Where were you when it happened? We all have our stories. Allow me to explain.
It felt like a movie when Sara, the manager of the hotel said, “They say they are closing the border so you might not get out.” I was near the end of my week-long writing retreat in Mexico. My brain was racing, “Will they really do that? Do I change my ticket? Can I get through to the airlines? Do I wait it out here for a week? What if it turns into weeks or months?” I returned to Santa Fe the day before the border was closed to non-essential personnel.
Sitting at home, in self-imposed isolation for 14 days, I had lots of time to reflect on what this public health crisis meant, or could mean. I thought back to living in Manhattan and standing in the Hudson River park looking down twenty blocks to the Twin Towers on 9/11. The planes had hit earlier and now, as crowds gathered, the towers collapsed. Soon the military arrived to take control. The next day, still in a state of trauma, I was on the Today Show sharing recommendations from my new book on family communication about violence. It was surreal. I remember having to pass a check point, showing ID to a soldier to get in and out of my neighborhood. Like everyone, I wondered what could happen next.
I thought back to another public health crisis I lived through. That one more slow moving but deadly to many in my city of San Francisco during the 1980s. I was working on a public health project for UC Berkeley as very angry and fearful AIDS advocates, who had lost many friends very quickly to the infection, called on the Federal government to help the infected. “Silence = Death” was their slogan.
Three public health crises. Three very different eras pre- and post-internet: AIDS, 9/11, COVID-19. Ironic, to say the least, as my job is working to ensure that everyone in New Mexico has timely access to medical care, food security, stable housing, mental health care, transport and five other vital services. The mission to identify gaps in services and fix them across 33 counties has never been more urgent. I can’t help thinking, “Where will this pandemic lead? To hoarding or helping?” From my streaming feeds, emails and links, the one phrase I keep seeing repeated is, “We’re all in this together.”
A sign we are on the right track is that all my meetings with community mobilizers, those dedicated New Mexicans surveying families to measure gaps in health care and other key services, and why those gaps exist, were not cancelled. Instead, I find myself in video conferencing meetings throughout the day. I see twenty earnest faces on my desktop, representing the leaders in city and county government, along with stakeholders in medical care, higher education, law enforcement and the nonprofit sector. The work to ensure the safety and health of families and all community members is not going to miss a beat. Together, we can confront the three-headed hydra of apathy, envy and fear (in the form of power brokers who control resources).
What’s very clear is that physical distancing is not social distancing. Far from being slowed down, problem-solvers are more motivated and productive than ever. Groundbreaking work awaits all of us as this societal reset button is being pressed. Our role in this pandemic and economic disruption is clear.
The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.
Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The mission awaits: www.tenvitalservices.org