Coronavirus, Features, Science

BU professors and students explore the side effects of social distancing

Since the emergence of COVID-19 in late 2019, now categorized as a global pandemic, there have been more than 43,000 cases and 500 deaths in the U.S. Fears of the virus spreading have left people quarantined in their homes and practicing social distancing as public health officials, and now many state governors, have enforced policies to slow the transmission of coronavirus.

An empty bench on the Boston University Beach. Public health officials have emphasized the importance of social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus to prevent the virus’ spread and minimize the burden on the healthcare system. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Eleanor Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, wrote in an email that social distancing creates intentional space between people because the virus is spread through both direct and indirect physical contact.

By staying indoors, individuals run a lower risk of exposure to the virus on public surfaces, such as door handles, subway poles and elevator buttons, Murray wrote. Social distancing also serves to minimize the number of sick people needing medical care all at once, she wrote, which can help society to return to normalcy quicker.

“The goal of social distancing is to keep people far enough apart in space and time that there aren’t chances for transmission to happen,” Murray wrote. “This will keep everyone safe, including doctors and nurses, cleaning staff, and people who need medical care for reasons other than COVID.”

Melanie Smith, a senior lecturer in the CAS Writing Program who graduated from SPH in 2007, said she felt concerned for her students’ mental well-being during this time. Through her small, intimate classes, she said she has come to learn of the unique challenges her students face, ranging from being new at BU or in the U.S. to dealing with mental health issues.

“Now you have this added layer of something that is much more primal. We have a pandemic,” Smith said. “We have parents who are worried about their children who are here. We have kids who are worried about their families. We have sort of a shutdown of our public transportation system. We have campuses shutting down. We have students who have no place to go.”

Hessann Farooqi, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he is self-quarantining for at least 14 days following his return home to Colorado on Saturday. He said he spends most of the day in his room, going outside only for a walk or run.

“I’m definitely more than a little bit bored,” Farooqi said. “When I’m on campus at BU, I’m always going between all these different things, between my internship and classes and club meetings and events … to not have any of that is definitely a big change.”

But Farooqi said he is trying to keep a positive mindset and take advantage of the extra time he has while social distancing.

“I’ve been doing a lot of things that I wouldn’t have time for otherwise. I’ve been reading more, I’ve had more time to catch up on the different TV shows, and certainly take naps every once in a while,” Farooqi said. “I’m trying to keep a positive outlook on this.”

BU Student Health Services will be operating through telemedicine, according to an email sent by SHS, which restricts students’ access to mental health resources.

In the midst of the feeling of chaos, Smith said the first step people can take to feel more at ease is to acknowledge the situation.

“We’re going to go through a scary thing. We’re going to miss people. We’re going to have moments when we feel hopeless. And then we tell ourselves, we’ve been through other things like this,” Smith said. “You draw on those strengths that you know that you possess.”

In these times, Smith said she recommends that students and professors maintain a sense of routine and community, and to do something that makes them happy. For her, continuing to teach remotely and seeing her students on Zoom gives her a sense of purpose, she said.

“I have a reason to get up. I’m going to wash my face, dress. I have something that I can do that’s meaningful,” Smith said. “We’re reclaiming some of our agency,some of our ability to move through this.”

Farooqi said he believes the habits individuals are picking up while practicing increased isolation — from being more hygenic to actively calling loved ones more often — are habits that should be more common all of the time.

“So many of the things that we’re all now doing, social distancing, and even just washing our hands better … are really good behaviors that we should continue with,” Farooqi said. “I hope that the whole pandemic experience makes people realize that we can actually change a lot of things about the way that we live and still live a really good, high quality life.”

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