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Mike Davis: Social Distancing, Not Home Arrest

Last week my sister-in-law who lives in a tiny village outside of Trieste was taking her daily walk in the country when she was stopped by a heavily-armed soldier.  He threatened her with arrest unless she immediately returned to her house and stayed inside.  He was carrying out his official orders.

Is there any need to point out the patent absurdity of prohibiting outdoor exercises like walking, jogging and bike riding?  In the open air at a distance from others and avoiding contact with railings and other surfaces,  there is absolutely no possibility of either contracting or spreading COVID-19, although the ordinance creates the impression that there might be.

For the tens of millions, young and old,  whose schools or workplaces are closed, daily exercise is essential in maintaining strong immune systems.  Stay at home should not mean stay inside.  While exercises that bring people into close contact with one another such as team sports and weight-training at the Y, are a bad idea, we should encourage people to spend their down time talking solitary walks and bicycle trips or for that matter hikes in the country that avoid state campsites and national parks.  Public space, used responsibly, is an important medicine.

At a recent press conference Trump urged people to simply watch more TV. He, of course, prospers from our passivity and powerlessness.  And because he doesn’t read books, he didn’t bother to mention opening a good book as an alternative to watching Fox News or listening to Sean Hannity rant nonsense on the radio. 

Generations X and Z, of course, need no advice since they will be on social media 24/7, exchanging good information and bad, but also maintaining healthy social interaction.  It is an entirely different story for those who are older, sicker and alone. Their social isolation can become life-threatening.

Indeed the combined effects of fear, confinement, income loss and the potential destruction of family savings augur a mental-health crisis on an even larger scale than the pandemic itself. This isn’t simply collateral damage but rather an integral and extremely dangerous part of the health threat that has so far been neglected. Consider solidarity an essential vaccine.

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