We Need Social Solidarity, Not Just Social DistancingRoundup
tags: sociology, coronavirus, mutual assistance, Chicago heat wave
Eric Klinenberg (@EricKlinenberg) is a professor in the social sciences at New York University and the author of “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Us Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.”
Social distancing — canceling large gatherings, closing schools and offices, quarantining individuals and even sequestering entire cities or neighborhoods — seems to be the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But it’s a crude and costly public health strategy. Shuttering shared spaces and institutions means families lose child care, wages and social support. What’s more, it’s insufficient to protect the older, sick, homeless and isolated people who are most vulnerable to the virus. They need extra care and attention to survive, not society’s back.
I learned this firsthand while studying another recent health crisis, the great Chicago heat wave of 1995. In that event, as in so many other American disasters, social isolation was a leading risk factor and social connections made the difference between life and death.
In Chicago, social isolation among older people in poor, segregated and abandoned neighborhoods made the heat wave far more lethal than it should have been. Some 739 people died during one deadly week in July, even though saving them required little more than a cold bath or exposure to air-conditioning. There was plenty of water and artificial cooling available in the city that week. For the truly disadvantaged, however, social contact was in short supply.