COMMENTARY: Social distancing isn’t an option, but our duty to each other

Social distancing: it’s already the phrase of the year, and we’re only in March.

But thanks to COVID-19, the term is breaking the internet. Schools are closed, events are cancelled, and we’re all supposed to stand at least six feet away from each other.

Particular attention is focused on those most at risk, such as the immunocompromised and the elderly. This weekend, Quebec Premier François Legault advised all people over the age of 70 not to leave their house. They are also being told to avoid people who could infect them, particularly their grandchildren.

For some of us, it’s easier said than done.

I live with two people at the opposite ends of the age spectrum: my 10-year-old daughter and my 82-year-old mother. Last summer, Mom sold her house and moved in with us. This arrangement was supposed to be mutually beneficial — less day-to-day responsibility for her, backup child care for me and the chance for grandmother and granddaughter to bond over their shared love of art and nature.

But that was before the new coronavirus and COVID-19. I am now feeling terribly guilty because that arrangement is now the biggest threat to my mother’s well-being. And that threat is very real.

One in six people over the age of 80 who contracts COVID-19 dies. And that is for those who get treatment. The average age of a person who has died in Italy is 81. In Italy, where the outbreak has locked down the entire country, nurses and doctors are practising what is called “catastrophe medicine.” They are rationing ventilators, giving them to the people most likely to survive. And the elderly are not making the cut. They are being left to perish so that stronger patients can live.

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