Love in the time of COVID-19

Life (and death) march on during the pandemic.

Pictures of new babies and grandbabies appear in the same feed as friends mourning family members. 

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These moments of joy and tragedy demand human contact but that takes on an increased level of risk during the COVID-19 era.

Clearly, people are tired of being kept from one another. The long weekend saw a flood of local residents heading out to stores, to parks and to social gatherings, some careful about physical distancing and wearing masks, others not so much. Those that are less careful (or wilfully careless) expose themselves to a different affliction: public shaming on social media. There is no shortage of self-appointed pandemic police officers on patrol, posting photos and video of any crowd they deem too large, anyone they rule is too close to others.

When Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s public health officer, implores people to be kind, she means everyone and in every way.

She, Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix have laid out specific instructions for businesses as the province moves to slowly and carefully reopen the economy but have been more vague on personal and social interactions. They have urged caution and common sense but that’s not enough.

What we need is a harm reduction manual, something that separates low-risk and high-risk activities and actions. 

As Julia Marcus, a Harvard professor of population medicine points out in a recent piece in The Atlantic, harm reduction protocols have always worked better than outright bans on behaviours. She points to the AIDS outbreak 40 years ago. Abstinence not only didn’t work but it drove people seeking casual sex underground. What worked much better, leading to declines in transmission and new cases, were manuals on safe sex.

What would a pandemic safety manual look like?

It doesn’t really need to be complicated, Marcus writes.

“Want to see your grandkids? Still planning to have that party? Meet up outside. Don’t share food or drinks. Wear masks. Keep your hands clean. And stay home if you’re sick.”

Note how most of those suggestions are simply common sense living tips that should be always practiced, not just during a pandemic.

And to be fair to Dr. Henry, she’s covered the same ground numerous times in her briefings. 

As we loosen restrictions and look at keeping the spread of COVID-19 low, we have to prioritize relationships. For most people, their social network is made up of concentric circles of size and importance. Family and close friends are that small, critical group we can’t live without, while work colleagues, our social media followers and casual acquaintances are more plentiful but less essential.

It’s easy to imagine Dr. Henry offering a simple way to decide who to interact with and how. Whom do you love? Whom do you need close to you (and who feels the same about you)? That’s your inner circle.

Love those people with your time, your presence, your handshakes, handholding and hugs.

Distance everyone else in both time and space, not to be mean but for their safety as well as for your health and those in your inner circle.

The people in your inner circle are sacred. 

Tell and show them you love them while doing your part to protect them. 

That’s how love has always been and should always be. A pandemic shouldn’t change that one bit.

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