Social & Physical Distancing

Social & Physical Distancing

The term 'social distancing' is better served by 'physical distancing'. This may seem like semantics, but it can translate into an enormous behavioural and psychological difference.'

‘Physical distancing’ is what it says: a specific physical distance between you and anyone else (2m).

‘Social distancing’ can mean being physically close but emotionally removed. But mostly, people don’t want to be ‘socially distanced’. Socially distanced is a tough place to be. However, we can be physically distanced and still socially connected, especially in a world with modern technology. In these difficult times, while we should remain physically distanced, we must also reach out and be socially connected.

In South Africa, the lockdown rules are stringent. (We will soon post some ideas about how to beat the COVID-Lockdown blues). In the meantime, let’s keep socially connected in meaningful ways, and physically separated to minimise the harms of COVID19.

Ways to be socially connected:

  • Everyone should have a COVID Connection Comrade who does not live with them with whom who they check-in with daily at a regular time. Develop a plan of what to do if the person doesn’t respond.
  • Create a WhatsApp group with your friends and share regularly – but not every few minutes! Try to mix things up by not only sharing the latest infection numbers. Keep it social, but remember people still have stuff to do, so don’t send updates multiple times per hour, or expect instant responses.
  • Use Skype, Zoom or a video-call to see each other. It does make a difference, especially for those who are romantically involved but physically separated!
  • Create a group with members of your family, even those you’ve been meaning to contact for years.
  • Create a support group with your neighbours. If you go to the shop, share information about the world outside. Where things are available, which stores are crowded and what the stock situation is like. Take turns to do grocery shopping and minimise exposure. Drop a box of food at the front door for them to pick up.*
  • Invest in future returns of favours, you may need it soon. If you have special privileges during lockdown, or access to ‘essential’ non-essentials, let those that you care about know, and share the privilege.
  • Think about anyone you know who may be unable to go to the shop. People rely on public transport, or are sick at home, or old or don’t have any family or support structures. Connect via technology and offer to fetch them food and essentials.
  • Establish a regular check-in routine to make sure people are not getting sick. If they get infected with COVID19 or anything else, monitor them daily via WhatsApp in case they need further medical care or need to be hospitalised.
  • In times of lockdown, people are very quick to forget about fundamental human rights. People may be arrested for being seen to or actually violating the state of emergency regulations. Know who you will call if you are arrested and remember their number. Regularly check-in on each other. Let people know where you are going and how long you will be. Describe your routes and if you don’t come back by a specific time, have your primary contact person call the police station.

Many of these new rules are things that people who use drugs have to do in the ordinary world. For people who use drugs, there are many other things that people who are not dependent on unregulated drugs don’t have to consider. In terms of social integration, here are some additional tips:

  • Check-in on people who are more vulnerable and form a support group.
  • Form a group of people who use the same drugs and warn each other about changes in quality and prices.
  • Form a mutual support group where you can share your goals in terms of doses and patterns of using and try to support each other in these goals.
  • If you are able, support each other with anti-withdrawal medications and emergency supplies.

In summary, no matter who you are, whether you use drugs or not, simply be non-judgemental, be kind and be present through technology. Realise that we are all fragile, but some are more vulnerable. Become socially integrated through technology while being physically separated. Maybe when the Corona is gone, we can have learned how to be a more compassionate and socially integrated society.

*only put pre-packaged food in the box. Make sure your hands are clean, and they should wipe down items once they’ve bought them before they go into the box.

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