March 23, 2020
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Social distancing means finding new ways to help your neighbors during a pandemic

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
His tour of New England bars and coffeeshops on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus, Patrick Bruce sings in Portland's Congress Square on Wednesday. Bruce goes by the stage name PMB.

If there’s one thing Mainers know how to do, it’s to pitch in and help each other in times of emergencies or disasters, whether it’s floods, fires or blizzards. But as Mainers come to grips with the reality of COVID-19, they are learning the things they usually do to help are suddenly not allowed or are drastically altered.

On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills announced strict limits on public gatherings and recommended everyone practice “social distancing” — the deliberate increase of physical space between people. Maine restaurants and bars will stop dine-in service for two weeks. Social gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. And many private businesses were urged to close.

Here are seven things you can do to help those who need it while maintaining the recommended 6 feet of social distance.

Run errands for those who are housebound

For those who have been exposed to COVID-19 but have not been tested or are awaiting test results at home, going out is suddenly not an option as they self-quarantine. In these cases, getting groceries, medications, pet food and other household items is problematic.

Connect with anyone you know who may be in that predicament or post your willingness to help on a social media site. Many communities have already established groups for exchanging that sort of information. You can pick up what is needed and drop it on their doorstep.

Help your farmers

Check with local farmers who may find themselves with unsold surplus of fresh produce or products like cheese. The places they normally sell their items like regular farmers markets have been canceled, as have orders from wholesalers. Some farms in Maine have opened their seasonal farm stores early or are putting out bags of food at their farm stands and accepting payments via the honor system to maintain that social distance.

Reach out virtually and connect

For many people who live alone, the only outside contact they may have is through organized events such as group meals, cultural activities or church services. Many of these events have been canceled.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recently pointed out that “COVID-19 could cause an outbreak of isolation.” Consider going old school and picking up the phone to call and chat with relatives, old friends and neighbors. These are uncertain times and talking is a great way to calm nerves.

Share needed skills

As people are encouraged or required to remain in place, ordering essential items online is likely going to increase. Not everyone has the skills needed to navigate a pharmacy’s automated phone system or use the internet to order groceries.

If you are tech savvy, reach out and offer to help anyone you know who may feel intimidated by today’s technology. Put the word out on social media or call organizations that help the elderly and let them know you are willing to volunteer with tech support. Let them know people can call you for help or that you are willing to take over certain online tasks if they feel overwhelmed.

Keep an eye on each other.

A lot of people know individuals who live alone and are too proud to ask for help. Now is not the time to ignore them. If you know where they live, keep an eye on the house. Are lights coming on and going off at normal hours? Are delivered papers being taken in or are they piling up outside? If you know they heat with wood, is there smoke coming from the chimney on a chilly day? There is no need to be overly nosy, but just pay attention.

If you live alone, take a moment to check in with a trusted relative or neighbor on a regular basis. Consider sharing your own emergency contact information with them just in case you become injured or ill.

Share knowledge

Parents around the state have suddenly found themselves with a new role — teacher. Many Maine elementary and high schools have announced they are closed through the end of April and students will be homeschooled.

If you have specialized knowledge in any area — mathematics, science, art, music, theater, reading, dance, writing, cooking, sewing, mechanics, woodworking or anything else — offer to teach some classes online to children of your friends or neighbors. Create and post some online videos demonstrating your skills with detailed step-by-step instructions. Make sure to include what materials will be needed for your lesson and be upfront about what ages the lesson is meant for.

Be kind to each other

In times of stress and uncertainty, a smile and a kind word can go a long way. Show special kindness to those in your community working the front lines of the pandemic. Pharmacy workers, retail clerks, health care professionals, first responders and so many more are doing what they can to keep Maine functioning. Don’t take your own frustrations and fears out on them.

No one has dealt with anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mainers are all in it together and ready to help, even while maintaining that socal distance.

 


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