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Defining physical distancing


Tomorrow will mark two weeks since we were all told to start practising physical distancing to lessen the impact of COVID-19. Up until a few days ago, government and health officials were using the term "social distancing," which was widely criticized as too vague. Physical distancing is now the preferred term, and the meaning is clear: it means going home and staying home. If you're like me, it took a few days to really wind down and take it seriously at first.

I recall Friday, March 13th as if it was a distant memory. We had one last meeting where we awkwardly greeted our guests to the office without shaking hands and keeping a courteous distance. After that last meeting, my staff and I reviewed how we would work from home and continue to serve Don Valley North throughout this crisis. The City was just ramping up its Emergency Operations Centre. Now, as we enter our third week in stay-at-home mode, I believe we should brace ourselves for some mixed signals from public health officials and political leaders.

Trust the experts The COVID-19 outbreak is still on the upswing of a curve. More cases are coming and some partisan politicians will blame it on the actions of government leaders. This coming week, more than ever, we must separate politics and listen to the health care heroes who are doing everything they can to get us through this pandemic. Medical Officers of Health from all levels of government are sounding more urgent every day as they tell us what we must do to get COVID-19 under control. This is not a political matter — we will not return to normal any time soon if we don't listen to the expert advice of our public health officials.

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. de Villa explains physical distancing. I get it. I’ll admit the gravity of the situation didn't hit me immediately. Going back to March 13th, I succumbed to my grandson's pleading and took him and a couple of his friends to a Taco Bell. We ate in to avoid messing up the car. The next morning, I went out again to get a manicure. It wasn’t until my dad's nursing home called me on the 15th to tell me they were locked down and forbidding visitors did I realize everything had to change. We have to move faster to smooth out the impact of this virus. If you are not taking serious measures to isolate yourself yet, you must do so now.

Don’t crowd others at the grocery store. Instead, go to stores with physical distancing measures in place. Do not go shopping daily — keep a list of the supplies you need and go once a week. In your apartment or condo building, take the stairs if you are able. If you can't, avoid crowding into the elevator with more than three people, including yourself. While waiting for the elevator, lead by example — say out loud that you are hoping to go in only three at a time. Most people feel awkward and would appreciate knowing how others want to proceed once the elevator doors open.

I know kids need to move around. I’m looking after two teenagers and a nine-year-old for my daughter, a health care worker. But playgrounds are not your friend right now — the equipment is not sanitized and gathering in a space with a number of kids and parents is a significant risk. That's why the City has closed all playgrounds and parks amenities. Kids are not immune to COVID-19. Some young people have gotten seriously ill. Make sure they are also adopting strict hygiene habits, and cut them some slack. Try not to go nuts when they do cartwheels all over the living room, like my grandkids here.

[cartwheel grandkids gif goes here]

Two siblings can shoot some hoops in your driveway but they can't go to a basketball court like the ones we love at Parkway Forest and Van Horne Park. Playing there draws more players to the game. This is not physical distancing. As the weather warms up, you can bring your bikes out but keep them off the sidewalk. There are many pedestrians who need to stay safe and maintain their distance on our sidewalks. Kids can ride their bikes to stretch, but not to meet up with friends. Don’t worry, your kids know how to stack their friends up on their phone screen, Brady Bunch-style.

Stay informed Make sure you're regularly checking for the most reliable updates and information. Our Toronto Public Health team has put together a very comprehensive page with details on everything from service impacts, economic supports and health advice. I can't emphasize it enough — we all must comply with physical distancing now. So many people are counting on us: every child who needs to get back to school; every isolated senior watching their retirement investments shrink; and every working person who has suddenly lost their income. Tune out the political rhetoric, conspiracy theories and terrifying economic forecasting. The best thing we can do right now is just listen to the doctors.


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