An Olive Garden employee at La Mesa's Grossmont Center hands takeout meals to customers.
An Olive Garden employee at La Mesa’s Grossmont Center hands takeout meals to customers. Photo by Chris Stone

Even in the midst of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, indeed especially because of it, now is not the time for social distancing.” What we need to be practicing, just temporary, is “physical distancing.” 

If there’s one thing the past several years have shown us is that we’ve all been seeing too much of the tearing apart of our country’s, and the world’s, social fabric.

Notwithstanding this snowballing crisis, we must all now focus on how we can heal our state and nation in new and creative ways after too many years of social disharmony and disunity spurred by the highest levels of our government and some of our ratings-obsessed media.

It is not helpful to regurgitate the ways the administration has socially distanced us from each other — and from so many of our friends in the world.

There clearly are understandable reasons many Americans have been attracted to this rhetoric of division, when so many have not seen their wages grow and cannot reasonably foresee better futures for their children. But, this recent fixation on social distancing has not improved the lives of those who have borne the brunt of economic dislocation or faced a threatened American Dream. Now, we need to be as compassionate as possible with everyone, even those with whom we respectfully disagree.

None of us can afford to play the game of “us versus them” anymore as cases of COVID-19 rise exponentially in the US and around the world. Recently, the President has adjusted his approach to the crisis, and he should be applauded for that change of perspective.

For now is the time, at every level of our government and in every corner of our society, and especially in our traditional and social media, to stop focusing on discord and to recommit to caring for each other in whatever safe ways we can. Though this health crisis momentarily requires us to keep a reasonable physical distance from each other, this is actually a time to get socially closer now more than ever. This could be the true silver lining of this devastating public health catastrophe.

So how do we do it? Our tech revolution has caused many serious challenges to our privacy, but our social media platforms also offer us many wonderful tools to reach out to each other for closeness and community.

Drew Liebert

A good friend called me the other day to see how I was faring, and said “Let’s bring our families together and do a FaceTime dinner.” Then I Skyped with colleagues, did a conference call with folks in San Francisco, texted hellos to friends and called my elderly neighbors to check in on them. We need to contact friends in other countries and right next door more than ever, even if just virtually.

We need to support food banks, shelters and out-of-work assistance sites in whatever ways we feel most socially committed and financially able. It’s time to reach out, not to separate. And we need to take care of ourselves and our families as we face extraordinary stress and uncertainty. So many people need us spiritually closer to them rather than farther apart.

I awoke one morning in this strange new paradigm of isolation realizing that, though physically distanced from others, we in California, in America and in the world, have an opportunity now to get socially closer — no matter how hard some may still try to push in the opposite direction. Hopefully, like the virus, that soon will stop too.

We will eventually overcome the coronavirus pandemic, and we can actually be stronger, and the closer, for it. So let’s stop calling it social distancing, and start rebranding it simply physical distancing. Hope to connect with you virtually soon.

Drew Liebert is the chief of staff for state Senate Majority Leader Robert Hertzberg and has worked in the California Legislature for more than 25 years. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.