Social Distancing: Fear And Isolation In The Time Of Coronavirus

Mar 19, 2020

 

To help curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, employees in many companies are being encouraged to work from home when possible. WFAE is no different. Many of our staff members are practicing social distancing and working remotely. One of those, is reporter Sarah Delia. She’s been working from home and she’s looking for ways to connect with the community.

That brings us to our new series Social Distancing which Sarah is forefronting. She joins WFAE's "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf.

Lisa Worf: So Sarah, start off by telling listeners what the idea behind this series is.

Sarah Delia: As social distancing is becoming more and more commonplace — we’re encouraged work from home if we can and limiting the number of people we interact with in a day — it can feel a bit isolating at times. And there is a lot of anxiety out there around what the current situation is, and what will happen next.

So we wanted to connect with our listeners to hear what they are worried about and the challenges they are facing -- and really what’s changed in their lives since the outbreak of the coronavirus. We want to know if listeners are having to postpone major life events like weddings or funerals, if they are experiencing financial burdens, or how their interactions with their communities have changed.

We’ve set up a Google voicemail box for listeners to call and leave us a message -- that number is 704-916-9114 or you can go to wfae.org for more information. I’ve been calling people back and conducting the majority of these interviews from my dining room table, and I’ve already heard some really interesting stories.

Worf: Well, give us some examples …

Delia: Sure. I spoke to a couple who unfortunately had to postpone their wedding, which was only a couple of months away. Carmela Ver and Babu Rapaka are both physicians who said they just couldn’t stand the idea of family coming from all over the country and putting themselves at risk. They both agreed that seeing what they’ve seen as the people on the frontlines, it was hard, but, the right call to pushback the wedding.

Ver: We feel like we are doing the right thing. We have a lot of elderly family members, my grandpa is 86; I have a great aunt who is 90. And a lot of our family work in the medical field and so they too are high-risk of spreading the virus, being an asymptomatic carrier, and I do not want to put any of my family members at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Worf: So I imagine as physicians they are pretty busy. Did they talk about that at all?

Delia: They definitely did. On a good month, as busy as they are, they get to see each other a couple of times a month. In the new world we’re living in, they aren’t sure when they’ll be able to see each other in person again. The last time they saw each other was mid-February when they were doing wedding planning.

I also spoke with the manager of a grocery store in Charlotte, who asked not to be named. She’s in a really tough spot. She’s still coming into work and interacting with the potentially thousands of people a day who are tired, stressed, and anxious about finding supplies. She’s trying to keep her staff’s morale up, but says it’s been hard. When a customer is upset about something like toilet paper or cleaning supplies being out of stock, they sometimes take it out on the employees.

Grocery store manager: You know some of the public is very thankful that we are here but a lot of times I feel like we are kind of taken for granted. People are upset that they can’t get what they need. And we feel for them -- but there is nothing that we can do about it. And I think it’s important that people remember that. Like we are trying, we are doing our best and keeping ourselves at a pace and mental state where we can function. I have to step back and remind myself that this is so traumatic for everyone that when they are lashing out it’s because they are scared. Everybody is scared.

Delia: You know she’s had to have some really hard conversations with customers who are frustrated and it’s hard. She wants them to feel heard, but at the same time, there’s only so much she can do — the store has the supplies it has, and she’s not in control of that.

And I spoke to a middle school teacher, Adrian Taylor, who is getting used to teaching solely online. His wife is an elementary school teacher and they have twp young kids of their own. So they are juggling a lot between teaching their students and trying to make sure their own kids are getting what they need for their education.

Taylor: As an educator we plan months in advance so to not know, "OK, is this for two weeks and then we’ll be going back? Will we be starting a different type of learning?" All of that limbo is hard to plan to know what you’re going to do. There’s a lot of fear out there. My own kids are a little nervous.

Worf: What are you learning from speaking to all these folks? And how can people listen to their stories?

Delia: Really all these stories are so different. We are all struggling with a variety of issues right now that are uniquely are own. At the same time, a lot of people are feeling many of the same emotions — fear, anxiety, isolation. And everyone I’ve been speaking to wants to know: when will this all be over? So we hope this series will make us all feel a little more connected and a little less alone. We still want to hear from folks so the number to call again is 704-916-9114. We’ll start to air these stories next week as we can and also have them available on wfae.org.

 

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.

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