Countries around the world are beginning to plan and implement their ‘Exit Strategy,’ gradually removing restrictions and returning to some semblance of normalcy, following the COVID-19 pandemic.

But just how will we emerge from this pandemic? How will the world return to normal? And what will that new normal look like?

Our world has changed. We spent weeks and months in isolation. In lockdown. Quarantined. Disconnected from friends and family. Separated from society. Practicing ‘Social Distancing,’ we distanced ourselves from one another.

How long will we continue to distance one another?

Dr. Anthony Fauci has even suggested that we should forgo handshakes, long after COVID-19 is behind us. No more handshakes? Will we give up the simple, sublime pleasure of physical touch? Of an embrace?

These trying times have tested our ability to connect with one another. After months in isolation, will we continue to focus on ourselves or be concerned with the needs of others? Have we lost our ability connect?

While ‘Social Distancing’ helps prevent the spread of infection, the term itself can be counterproductive, even dangerous. Early on, Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich, a professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University and director of its Security and Resilience program, advocated instead the use of ‘Physical Distancing,’ a term which the World Health Organization quickly adopted. ‘Physical Distancing’ more aptly describes the goal of  protecting ourselves and others, without cutting ties to our community.

Maintaining social connections during disasters is crucial. Studies have shown that in times of stress, feelings of isolation and loneliness can be devastating to immune health, making us even more vulnerable. In an interview with the Washington Post, Aldrich said, “social ties are the critical element to getting through disasters.” His research has shown that the stronger social ties a community has, the better it is able to weather disasters.

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