Coronavirus: Social distancing can bring us closer together


Photo by Zoe Sawdon.

Zoe Sawdon, Feature Editor

I make lists for just about everything, and my upcoming 18th birthday was no exception. I had eagerly scribbled out the names of my invitees, tirelessly researched the perfect venue, and already knew which balloons I’d want to wake up to on that magical day of entry into adulthood. But quarantine? Yeah, that was definitely not on my list.

Having accepted that my 18th birthday was destined for utter disappointment, I dragged myself down the stairs on that fateful morning only to be greeted by a heap of colorful envelopes – exactly sixty-six, based on my later count. Little did I know, while I was busy moping about my doomed quarantine birthday, my mom and sister had solicited secret handwritten letters from my friends and family to be dropped off in a bin on our front porch or mailed directly to the house. After all those years of disuse, I don’t think my mailbox even knew what hit him. As I sat in my bed in a pile of glitter and construction paper, absorbing each lovingly written word, I thought to myself, I must be the happiest girl on the planet.

With the increasing spread of COVID-19, U.S. states have been placing restrictions on social contact and gatherings. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a shelter-in-place order for all residents beginning on Tuesday, March 24, requiring that people stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out. With “social-distancing” measures in place across the country, social gatherings have become rare, and most stores, restaurants, and other public places are closed. My intention is not to negate the fact that the coronavirus is a terrible thing, claiming precious lives and bringing with it other serious implications; it is something that all Americans are dealing with in one way or another. However, considering myself a pretty optimistic person, I’d like to hope that the coronavirus can result in some kind of good for our nation. Speaking from my own experience as well as some encouraging news I’ve seen, what if, in the midst of this pandemic, social-distancing and self-isolation can actually bring us closer together?

It is difficult to imagine what this pandemic would look like without technology, and I’m not just talking about Netflix and Disney Plus to support our quarantine bingeing habits. Social media has now become the backbone of our social lives during this period of self-isolation, with users relying on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and other messaging apps to stay connected with one another. According to a study done by Kantar, a multi-country market research and consulting firm, overall WhatsApp usage has increased by 40 percent and Facebook by 37 percent, with the largest gains in the 18-34 age group. Now a household name, Zoom Video Communications, or Zoom, has also seen dramatic growth with the coronavirus outbreak. The New York Times reports that Zoom is now worth more than United, Delta, American, and Jetblue airlines combined. This video-conferencing app has hosted almost anything you can think of from college lectures to birthday parties, and from church services to blind dates. Increased social media usage shows that despite our physical distancing from one another, people are getting creative and still making the effort to learn, connect, and celebrate together.

Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I have also come across a variety of hashtags and challenges circulating the app and other social media platforms. Some are simple and serve to keep people engaged, such as posting a photo of your dog and tagging five friends to do the same. While the abundance of cute dog photos on my feed has definitely not been a complaint, I’ve enjoyed even more seeing the virtual communities that are being formed and strengthened based on viewers’ shared interests. For movie fans, the Twitter hashtag #IsolationFilmClub, started by British actor Brett Goldstein, provides daily movie suggestions for users and a forum on which to discuss these films. For artists, Carson Ellis, an illustrator from Oregon, started a quarantine art club on instagram with prompts for people to attempt at home. For music fans, celebrities have been live streaming performances through social media, sometimes even taking fan requests; created by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, the #TogetherAtHome series has included at-home concerts from artists like John Legend, Charlie Puth, and Niall Horan. Social media certainly has its drawbacks in times like these, such as spreading panic and misinformation, but it is uplifting to see how its influence can be used to maintain the connections that are so important during this time.

It’s also been encouraging to see big businesses pitching in and doing what they can to support America’s battle against the coronavirus. Just the other day, my grandma explained to me over the phone that their local Shop Rite was open early every morning for elederly and at-risk customers so they could avoid large crowds while shopping. For college students who have found themselves suddenly displaced by the coronavirus, U-Haul is offering 30 days of free storage where they can keep their belongings to alleviate some stress. With a severe shortage of necessary medical supplies, many familiar companies and brands have answered the call and are scrambling to help meet the hospital system’s demands. Nordstrom, Brooks Brothers, and Under Armour are among the many clothing manufacturers who have begun producing masks and gowns for healthcare workers. Car companies like Ford, General Motors, and Tesla have also committed to producing ventilators, with Ford announcing that it plans to make 50,000 ventilators within 100 days and then 30,000 per month after that, according to CNN Business. Even distilleries across the country have shifted to producing much-needed hand-sanitizer. As more and more businesses mobilize to support our overworked hospital system and people whose lives have been greatly affected by the coronavirus, I am hopeful that their contributions will continue to invoke a sense of unity across our country.

Participation in the fight against coronavirus is not only reserved for celebrities and big-name companies, however; your classic random act of kindness has been elevated to a whole new level during this period of social-distancing. Elementary school teachers across the country, for example, have decorated their cars and driven past their students’ homes to say hello and cheer them up. A childhood favorite, the humble sidewalk chalk, has become a creative medium through which people are encouraging their neighbors out for a walk or a jog. Most notably, in Mountain View, Calif., a neighborhood chalk art museum was born featuring over 50 drawings, including a very impressive rendition of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Social distancing measures don’t give us the green light to become reclusive until this quarantine is over; rather, it is more important now than ever that we are intentional with our interactions and really take the time to show people that we are there for them, even if we can’t physically be there.

The outpour of love that I felt on my 18th birthday left me speechless, and I know it will be a day that I cherish forever, though it was far from what I’d envisioned by a long shot; I don’t think I would’ve traded those letters for any gift money could buy or any party I could throw.  Yes, it would be easy to lock myself in my room and watch The Office for hours on end, but I don’t want to look back on this experience and think that I wasted my time. It’s impossible for America to come out of this pandemic unchanged, and my hope is for that change to be a good one; the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, but a collective sense of compassion, gratitude, and unity can spread rapidly too.