Social Connection Needed in Battle Against Coronavirus
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, public health officials are warning us to practice social distancing. That seems like good advice given the contagious nature of the disease, but it is also essential that we connect.
Eric Klinenberg wrote Heat Wave about another silent, invisible disaster 25 years ago that killed more than 700 Chicago residents. As a sociologist, Klinenberg studied two adjacent neighborhoods with similar demographics and found that one had a death rate six times higher than the other largely because it lacked social connections. People didn’t know who needed help as their neighbors died behind closed doors.
Now is a good time to think about neighbors who could use some support. Could you call that neighbor who is feeling isolated and vulnerable to check on their welfare and to assure them that they are not alone? When you go to the store to stock up on supplies, could you also get some for your neighbor who is fearful of going out or has no means of transportation? Is there a way you could support the family whose parents need to report for work but whose children have had their school closed? Could you make it a point to patronize Asian restaurants and other small businesses impacted by the outbreak?
Of course, given the contagious nature of the disease, we need to provide support in ways that don’t endanger our neighbors or ourselves. People are finding creative ways to greet one another while avoiding skin contact as shown in the above graphic posted at our local Vashon Center for the Arts. Let’s get equally creative in finding safe ways to provide support. This crisis calls for clean hands and open hearts.
We especially need to open our hearts and connect with the struggles of those most vulnerable. Klinenberg found that it was Blacks and poor people who died disproportionately in the Chicago heat wave. Similarly, inequitable access to health care, housing and paid leave make many people more susceptible to coronavirus, and that’s bad for everyone’s health. We must insist that people get the immediate help they need and rededicate ourselves to working towards an equitable society. The coronavirus outbreak is a powerful reminder that we are in this together.
Jim Diers is driven by a passion to get people more involved in their communities and in the decisions that affect their lives. Over the past 40 years, he has served as a grass roots community organizer, community developer, and founding director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. Jim now shares the lessons from that work in his courses at the University of Washington; in international consulting through the Asset-Based Community Development Institute; and in his book, Neighbor Power. He has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College and as the Public Employee of the Year by the Municipal League of Martin Luther King County.