It might feel counter-intuitive, but self-isolating is perhaps the most compassionate way Christians can love our neighbors right now. 

During times of crisis, our instincts tell us to take action, to care for those affected, to collectively band together and solve the problem. As with other crises in recent history — the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the financial crash of 2008, and even the growing climate crisis — the spread of COVID-19 will affect the most vulnerable in our society. This includes the elderly, people with underlying health issues, those with insufficient housing, and those incarcerated. In essence, the very people Jesus calls us to consider in Matthew 25.

Social distancing might seem like an inconvenience to some, but for some of our neighbors, it might make all the difference.

Per White House guidelines released March 16, all Americans are urged to help slow the spread of the virus by avoiding engaging publicly in groups of more than 10 people, restricting unnecessary travel, and working remotely when possible. On March 19, California Governor Gavin Newsom went a step further, releasing an executive order for California’s 40 million residents to stay at home to more aggressively “flatten the curve” of additional cases. Other states have also issued similar “stay-at-home” mandates.

By now, businesses and schools have transitioned to operating remotely, with others simply having to shut their doors for the foreseeable future. Policymakers are working to come up with responses that balance public health as well as economic fallout. Each of us will be affected in some way or another, the question being to what degree and what we can do about it. 

Student takes note while listening to an online lecture.
By now, most students of all grade levels have had to transition to online learning.

Social distancing is something we should all take seriously to help reduce exposure among the public. 

For younger people who may be resistant to staying at home because of their resilience to symptoms, limiting exposure isn’t just for protecting ourselves, but others — particularly those who may suffer greater consequences. 

Additionally, as NPR states, self-isolating is also helpful in “buying time for hospitals to increase their capacity and for labs to ramp up diagnostic testing” as well as keeping the medical system from becoming overwhelmed in the event of an increased number of people showing symptoms.

First responders, medical personnel, grocers, pharmacists, and other low-wage employees who are keeping our fundamental needs operating are more at risk of being exposed. There are those who are reliant on public transportation to get to and from those responsibilities. And those already susceptible to economic inequalities are facing financial uncertainty beyond physical symptoms. 

Grocery store cashier wears a mask and gloves while working.
Workers who are keeping the fundamental needs of the country operating, such as those at grocery stores, are at more risk of being exposed.

So for those who are more easily able to work or study remotely, that option is, itself, a privileged course of action. But it is one we should be aware of as we take the necessary precautions to care for those more vulnerable. 

Social distancing might seem like an inconvenience to some, but for some of our vulnerable neighbors, it might make all the difference. 

It might feel counter-intuitive, but self-isolating is perhaps the most compassionate way Christians can love our neighbors right now.

We should also think of social distancing as physical distancing instead of emotional distancing. Here are some actions we can all take to feel more connected with our neighbors in the meantime:

  • Pray for others affected directly and indirectly, caregivers, and those facing uncertainty. 
  • Call grandparents, relatives, or loved ones who may feel more lonely or isolated.
  • Donate money, food, and other necessities to food pantries and homeless shelters through drive-thru or drop-off locations. 
  • Donate your time and talents to local organizations through virtual volunteer opportunities.
  • Get creative about other ways to serve or connect with your literal neighbors.

Related reading: Building Relationships Virtually While Social Distancing

This crisis won’t last forever. It will change what we’re used to or comfortable with in the short term. But for now, doing our part and being “all in this together” means keeping some space. And when we do make it through, it’s time for some more serious conversations about larger discrepancies and the roots of more systemic shortcomings laid bare by this crisis — our healthcare system, economic inequalities, xenophobia, and more. Because to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).