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Why CITY is replacing 'social distancing' with 'physical distancing' 

Readers of CITY may have noticed we have begun describing what has become commonly known as “social distancing” as “physical distancing.” We will continue to do that going forward.

The difference may seem like semantics, but it’s not. After numerous conversations with medical and mental health professionals, it has become clear that “social distancing” is a misnomer and does not accurately describe what people are actually being advised to practice to combat the pandemic.

We are going through a collective trauma, one that is pushing whatever anxiety any of us already harbored to the limits. Socializing with each other offers an ounce of normalcy left in an abnormal world. 
click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH
  • ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH

Of course, that socializing is different than most of us are used to. It is done from a distance with the aid of technology like FaceTime and Zoom and old-fashioned phone calls. But it is socializing nonetheless.

An opinion piece published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reinforced our viewpoint. The authors, who used “physical distancing” to refer to “social distancing,” noted that anxiety, depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence are all expected to spike as a result of the pandemic. They advised socializing as much as possible virtually, for workers to have a buddy system to check up on one another, and for people to embrace social media and digital conversation platforms.

Quarantining ourselves physically is one thing. Isolating ourselves socially is entirely different, and potentially needlessly harmful.

It is critical that we embrace reaching out to others, particularly those who are alone in this pandemic.  If you’re lucky enough to be quarantining with your loved ones, keep those who might not have that support in mind, and stay in touch.

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