Jonathan Smith, an award-winning lecturer in epidemiology at Yale University School of Public Health, recently posted on social media a compelling argument for social distancing and the need to be vigilant to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

He stressed that social distancing must include our families, which are part of the disease transmission dynamics.

“Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups, social dinners, playdates and casual family interactions, the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place,” Smith said.

You should perceive your family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk of contracting the coronavirus, everyone in the unit is at risk, he added.

Smith offered an example: “If your son visits his girlfriend, and visits with you and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly; it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical.”

He warned: “We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse.”

It’s easy to get discouraged, he said, “but stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that staying home and social-distancing

is working.”

People are itching to cheat on the social-distancing precautions just a little — arranging a play date for a child, getting a haircut or picking up a needless item at the store, he said. But it’s important to follow the social-distancing guidelines thoroughly.

Hand-washing and social- distancing measures are not about the efforts of individuals, but about societies working in unison to protect the most vulnerable, Smith said.

I shared his message with my family, friends and neighbors, as I was sure we were all thinking the same thing.

One neighbor, Richard Morehead, wrote to say he appreciated that I had shared the piece.

Morehead is a retired doctor from Santa Fe who practiced for 42 years. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine in 1968.

He said he would circulate Smith’s article among family and friends at the Fort Worth, Texas, retirement community where his lives with his husband, Ken Knight.

“We have pretty rigorous separation rules in place here, and good compliance — so far. But we are all getting a little stir crazy, accustomed to taking meals together and doing exercise classes and sitting in lectures together and chatting nonstop, now confined to our individual apartments,” Morehead said.

Although they get a pretty good meal in a paper sack once a day, they are lonely, he said, and “relatives are all firmly locked out.”

Morehead said he believes most of the residents in the retirement community will be able to tolerate the in-house separation from family and friends for a couple of months.

“But our isolation is imperfect,” he said, “as a substantial minority of us need and get home health assistance. And although the providers are carefully screened and monitored, we can expect that one of those good people will one day be an asymptomatic carrier, bringing the virus into one apartment before feeling ill.”

A resident also could bring the virus back from a supermarket or a doctor’s waiting room.

“We understand that many of us, probably a majority, will catch the virus sometime before a vaccine is widely available,” Morehead said.

“But better later than soon. Maybe convalescent serum will become available and maybe effective antiviral medications.

“In the meantime,” Morehead said, “I wish I was in Santa Fe and could sit on the back patio and look at the sky, watch the birdies, see the sun go down, look for Venus to emerge in the evening sky. Is there a good crop of rabbits this year? Baby quail?”

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

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