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Coronavirus Will Also Cause a Loneliness Epidemic

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Photo of a woman wearing a protective face mask at the high speed train station in Hong Kong
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Deborah Johnson Lanholm, 63, lives in Sicklerville, New Jersey. A retired nurse, she’s the primary caretaker for her older sister, Helen Palese, who lives with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “She’s nonverbal,” Deborah says. “I do her speaking for her. So every other day, we do something together. We go to the movies. I take her to my crocheting group. We go out to dinner or the mall. But she’s with other people. All of that will have to stop because she’s too compromised.”
And it won’t just stop for Helen. It’ll stop for Deborah, too. “I’ll have to change my routine because I have to care for her,” Deborah says. “I won’t go out in crowds or be in places where I’ll be exposed.”
Make no mistake: The rapid implementation of social distancing is necessary to flatten the coronavirus curve and prevent the current pandemic from worsening. But just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause an economic recession, it’s also going to cause what we might call a “social recession”: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness — older adults and people with disabilities or preexisting health conditions.
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