Connection during social distancing

Mandi Dornfeld, Human Development and Relationships Educator
UW-Madison Division of Extension Winnebago County
(920) 232-1979


0:10 – rename social distancing to physical distancing
0:58 – people who might be at risk with physical distancing
3:10 – helping people who may be prone to isolation
4:24 – resources to access during physical distancing
5:29 – lead out


Lorre Kolb: Connecting with others during social distancing. We’re talking with Mandi Dornfeld Extension Human Development and Relationships Educator in Winnebago County and I’m Lorre Kolb. Mandi, can you clarify what social distancing is and what it isn’t?

Mandi Dornfeld: That’s a really good question and I think one of the best things that I’ve heard is a change in language to call it physical distancing. We can still keep people connected and socially connected and emotionally connected and feeling supported through a variety of means and mechanisms. And so if we change our language, it helps us take a deep breath around, okay, I don’t have to be isolated from my family and my friends, I just have to put physical space in between us that’s the rule. And for some of us who are accustomed to being physically closer to people, there’s lots of things we can do to take good care of ourselves and meet those needs, but let’s call it physical distancing.

Lorre Kolb: And so what are you seeing as far as physical distancing? Are there people who are more at a risk?

Mandi Dornfeld: So one of the recommendations I saw is you’re supposed to limit your contact of your five closest people who you reside with. And so for people who live alone, I think it’s going to be even more important for us to give them opportunity, information and mechanisms to connect. Things like I’ve seen these great experiences happening in my area where I live of people putting in hearts in windows and rainbows, and a rainbow is a universally accepted sign of sort of hope and joy. And hearts, I mean, hearts are love, right? And so you can still take walks, you can still get outside. And I think one of the most profound things I’ve realized over the last couple of weeks is the world – the nature world has not recognized we are in crisis. The birds are still singing, the sun is still coming up some days, so there’s lots of things that are happening. There was a porch light call last night, everyone turn on your porch light at eight o’clock to share hope and that’s about building community. The biggest challenge right now is that humans are wired for connection. And we have to find ways to replicate that connection. I am someone who craves touch and can’t have it as much as I’m used to, you know, just hugging people or shaking a hand. And so looking at opportunities to recreate that and it’s things like wrapping up in a blanket or taking a long bath or a shower, the sensation of a great lotion. You know, so using your other senses to meet those needs is really important and helpful. And then if you do live in a house with other people, being intentional about connecting with them and assessing their needs as well, and then looking outside your door and checking on your neighbors. And so we can work really hard to think about what we need, and how can we go about getting that. And our isolated individuals who aren’t as well connected, I really believe it’s our responsibility for those of us who are to fill that gap and reach out.

Lorre Kolb: So what do we do about our neighbors or friends who may live alone and may be more prone to isolation?

Mandi Dornfeld: We sort of learn patterns in our neighborhoods, and you can see if people are moving around or not moving around, I’ve seen some really, really great ideas. We laugh about the resurrection of a ding dong ditch; it’s a little less high jinx than that shenanigans. But you certainly can leave a note on your neighbor’s door or on their porch, even if you have to put it in a plastic baggie and be safe with it and just say, hey, if you need me, here’s my phone number or if you need anything, put a sign up in your window. I’ve seen a red light green light messaging, where you can provide two pieces of paper, a red piece and a green piece to someone who might be isolated. And every day, you check their window and if the green piece is up, that’s their thumbs up. We’re good, I’m good. And if the red thing is up, it’s like can you check on me or I might need some help. And it’s not about emergency management. You’re not going to go in for that but it’s maybe I need some milk or maybe I need I just need you to call me because I’m feeling lonely, and I’m scared and I don’t know how to order online groceries or things like that.

Lorre Kolb: If people are living by themselves what are some resources that they could access to help them get through this time period?

Mandi Dornfeld: I always recommend people call the supports they might be connected to. So call your doctor’s office. Call your local police department iff you’re having questions about the rules. And so go to the authority in whatever question you might have. I recommend calling your local Aging and Disability Resource Center if you’re elderly. If you’re a parent who is parenting school age kids call the school district. If you don’t have any of those connections, calling your doctor and just telling them what you need. Everybody is pitching into triage connection right now. And also, of course, call your Extension Office, we are all still working. And we are working really hard to triage that connection and to facilitate it. So every Extension office is still working, we have not closed we’re telecommuting, so we can assist any resident in the state in getting them connected to the right person in their community.

Lorre Kolb: We’ve been talking with Mandi Dornfeld Extension Human Development and Relationships Educator in Winnebago County and I’m Lorre Kolb.