“We’ve been saying ‘physical distancing’ because it’s important to remain physically separate but socially connected,” Van Kerkove said, adding that people should be looking after their mental health and that of their loved ones during the pandemic.
“There’s no lockdown on laughter,” she said. “There’s no lockdown on talking to your family and finding ways to connect.”
Social contact is vital for mental health, experts say
Physically staying away from others is one of the most effective ways right now to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Doing so, however, goes against people’s desires for connection and physical touch — and could contribute to feelings of anxiety, loneliness fear and grief that could create a whole other crisis: one of mental health.
The absence of physical contact and human connection can take a psychological toll. That’s one of the reasons Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki suggests reframing “social distancing” as “physical distancing.”
That means trying to replicate in-person gatherings and interactions with technologies such as FaceTime and Zoom.
“In fact, I encourage all of us to practice ‘distant socializing.’ Ironically, the same technologies we often blame for tearing apart our social fabric might be our best chance, now, of keeping it together,” Zaki said.
Other experts say the change could be confusing
Even though WHO and some experts are moving away from the term “social distancing,” the phrase could prove hard to shake. The use of the term is now ingrained in the public consciousness and is also in widespread use among government agencies and by media outlets.
Furthermore, some experts have argued that a shift to different terminology could confuse people at a time when accurate dissemination of information is vital.
“My main concern is that this switch in terminology—in the midst of the crisis—violates one of the key principles of effective risk communication, which is to ensure that there is clarity and consistency in messaging,” Lori Peek, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the director of the Natural Hazards Center, wrote in an email to CNN.
“I just don’t want to see members of the public become confused or frustrated during what is already such an uncertain and frightening moment for so many.”