Leo Finkley Mar 20, 2020 12:27:28 PM

Social Distancing, Higher Education, and YOU


On March 15, 2020, the CDC urged that any gatherings of 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for the next 8 weeks. In a presidential address a day later, this recommendation was changed to suggest that gatherings of 10 or more people be avoided. So what does all this mean for higher education, students, and those that are now obligated to work from home?

What is social distancing?

Social distancing refers to certain actions that are taken by Public Health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. Simply put – the idea is to maintain a 6-foot distance between you and other people. 

A 2010 study published in BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health found that social distancing reduced the number of overall flu cases. However,  while social distancing may be an important factor in preventing the spread of COVID-19, practicing good hygiene and taking other safety precautions are also important steps in preventing the spread.

Students and those working remotely are all impacted by social distancing and the side affects associated with isolation. 

How long will it last?

The best and most honest reply, according to epidemiologists and virologists, is simple: “It depends. It’s not going to be over anytime soon — a matter of months rather than weeks.” Here are some key factors that determine how long the distancing will last:

  • When U.S. COVID-19 cases finally reach their peak – We don’t yet know the true number of cases because of how limited testing remains in America.
  • What actions are taken after the peak – China has partially lifted its lockdowns in many areas, but the government is still making efforts to reduce the number of new cases.
  • The discovery of unknown characteristics of the virus – So much is still unknown about this virus and how it behaves, but experts are working each day to learn more.
  • How much we’re willing to do, for how long – How long are people willing to sacrifice individual conveniences and desires to save the lives of others?

Although social distancing can help fight the spread of coronavirus, as social beings, we may experience negative side effects as a result of our isolation.

How Social Distancing Impacts Students and Remote Workers

Over long periods of time, social isolation can increase the risk of a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death. A 2015 meta-analysis of the scientific literature by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a research psychologist at Brigham Young University, determined that chronic social isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.

In addition to these potential health problems, students are challenged to make college decisions without the opportunity to make campus visits or make in-person inquires. With campuses closed, frustrated high school juniors face tour cancellations, and seniors won’t be able to set foot on most campuses to experience the vibe before deposits are due on May 1, National College Decision Day.

How We Can Manage the Side Effects 

Reaching out and connecting with one another during this time will be important to combat the downsides of social distancing. Isolated students and remote workers should take advantage of today’s technology to reach out to friends, and loved ones. Even just a check-up will go a long way during this time. While the many forms of electronic communication may not be as personal as face-to-face interaction, it will benefit us more than no interaction. A phone call, with a real voice, is better than text, and a video-chat is better than a phone call.

Other actions that can help boost your well-being, as well as those around you include:

  • Embracing others, figuratively – Imagine, for example, who feels safe and familiar to you when at work versus at a family dinner versus at a football game. Now is the time to expand how you define your group identities.
  • Be generous – The practical side of this idea of expanding your identities is an encouragement to be generous, broadly speaking. Giving to others in times of need not only helps the recipient, it enhances the giver’s well-being, too. Doing so combats the impulse to build walls.
  • Remember to breathe – In this moment, with all the stress and anxiety, many people feel overwhelmed and disconnected. But you’re still here and those around you are in this chaos with you, too. A few conscious, gentle breaths can restore that connection, slow your mind and give you clarity, at least for a moment or two.

As for isolated students with limited options to make informed college decisions, here are a few ways you can learn more about a post-secondary institution:

  • Use Counselors as a Resource – Your high school counselor can provide a wealth of information about specific colleges or connect you with former students from your high school attending the colleges you can’t visit right now. And just because the college admissions office isn’t open to you doesn’t mean it’s not open at all. Admissions staffs are scrambling to provide as much information as possible so students can make informed decisions.
  • Use Tech to Connect – Take advantage of your personal virtual networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn to find and connect with enrolled students or alumni to learn more about a school. Email or message to set up a time to chat over FaceTime, Skype or even an old-fashioned phone call. As a bonus, you’ll have a inside contact who can provide candid, useful information.
  • Take a Virtual Tour – Many schools offer virtual campus tours — whether elaborate virtual reality experiences, videos or slide shows — where you’ll find images that can give you a feel for what a campus looks like and highlight what each college holds dear. Dig further, and you’ll find admissions blogs, podcasts and links to follow a school on social media. You may also find free access to the school newspaper that covers events, sports, politics and opinions of real students.

Staying calm during a pandemic can seem impossible. But, managing your stress and anxiety in a healthy way is important so you can make the best decisions possible. While social distancing may seem like a drastic step to take, it’s just a precautionary measure. And if you’re practicing it, there’s still a good chance you are healthy. Otherwise, you may be placed into a quarantine situation.

As always, we are here to assist you in any way possible to help develop or support your current and future initiatives as they evolve with the changing landscape, so please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Sources: “Information About Social Distancing PDF.” Santa Clara Valley, n.d., Kanter, Jonathan, Adam Kuczynski, and Science of Social Connection. “Social Distancing Comes with Social Side Effects – Here's How to Stay Connected.” The Conversation, March 17, 2020. https://theconversation.com/social-distancing-comes-with-social-side-effects-heres-how-to-stay-connected-133677. Mandavilli, Apoorva. “Wondering About Social Distancing?” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 16, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/smarter-living/coronavirus-social-distancing.html MillerMar, Greg, Jon CohenMar, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, and Rodrigo Pérez Ortega. “Social Distancing Prevents Infections, but It Can Have Unintended Consequences.” Science, March 16, 2020. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/we-are-social-species-how-will-social-distancing-affect-us Morin, Amy. “How to Practice Social Distancing During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Verywell Mind. Verywell Mind, March 13, 2020. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-social-distancing-4799570 Shulman, Jill Margaret. “How to Make College Decisions When Campuses Are Closed.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 15, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/well/family/coronavirus-college-visits-high-school-students.html. Wan, William. “How Long Will Social Distancing for Coronavirus Have to Last? Depends on These Factors.” The Washington Post. WP Company, March 16, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/16/social-distancing-coronavirus/.

Topics: Higher Education

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