Putting the ‘social’ in social isolating

Maddie Harris and Brooke Falk

On May 1, senior Sebastian Klein and his friends took an unusual approach in celebrating each of their post-secondary decisions. They met up at the Northbrook Junior High School parking lot to race scooters, making sure they remained at least 6 feet apart.

“We just made sure that we weren’t, like, right next to each other, and then [we would race scooters] in a straight line,” Klein said in a video conference.

Malia Jones, assistant scientist in health geography at the applied population laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a video conference that coughs and sneezes release droplets from the mouth or nose that may travel about 6 feet before they land, which led to the guideline that people maintain a 6-foot distance between one another. While 6 feet is the estimated safe distance, the exact distance for successfully preventing transmission remains unknown. 

Eric Cioe-Pena, emergency physician and director of global health for Northwell Health in New York City, said in a video conference that he prefers to call the 6-foot rule a “minimum safe distance.”

“You’re not trying to use the guideline as the end-all be-all, like, ‘I’ll be safe at 7 feet,’” said Cioe-Pena. “The guideline is … if you have to be close to people, try to stay 6 feet apart or farther.”

According to Jones, while complete social isolation would be ideal, it is not entirely realistic due to people’s psychological need to connect with others. Socializing while remaining 6 feet apart and taking the proper safety measures is usually an acceptable alternative. 

“Some kind of cloth or fabric mask or bandana … can help those little particles stay closer to you and not fly further than 6 feet,” Jones said.

According to Klein, to stay connected, he and his friends play “Quiplash XL,” a game from The Jackbox Party Pack 2. “Quiplash XL” is played on individual players’ phones and one main screen with three to eight players. Ranging from six to 16 questions, each question receives two answers from two different players, and the other players vote on the best response. Klein owns the game, so to play virtually, he and his friends go on a Zoom call and he shares his screen with them. 

As another way to be with others, Klein and his friends have played the free game “Club Penguin Online,” said Klein. As penguins, they are able to meet up in the same location of the game to interact. With friends, Klein has also played games on the free app “Psych!” which is similar to “Quiplash XL.” In “Psych!” players can creatively answer questions about other players and choose the best response or can guess the answer to trivia questions.

According to Jones, while it is important to stay connected to friends and family, physical isolation is currently the safest solution to limit the spread of COVID-19. She hopes, though, that states will soon be able to implement a system called “test and trace.” Through this system, people who have COVID-19 can be identified, and then contact tracing teams can figure out who those people have been in contact with to inform them of their exposure and help them determine the best course of action.

“This is not forever, this is what we need to do for now in order to control the pandemic, and hopefully soon we’ll have a much better system to keep just the people who have actually been exposed at home instead of everyone,” said Jones. “So I guess, just hang in there.”