Staying engaged during a summer of social distancing

Photo: Immortal Snapshots @ Pexels

Philadelphia is almost four months into quarantine, but the realities of the “new normal” are still unclear. Cabin fever likely set in weeks ago, nerves are frayed, and daily routines have become redundant. 

Even though Philadelphia has entered a modified green phase of re-opening, there remains a high risk of community transmission of COVID-19. While everyone should continue to take precautions against the spread of the virus, it is particularly important that those of us who are older or who have underlying health conditions remain vigilant. 

While we continue to physically distance and stay home as much as possible, we may be in need of new outlets to stay busy, stay engaged, and stay connected. Fortunately, here in Philadelphia there are several great virtual activities and resources that can keep the dog days of summer a little more relaxed and help combat the COVID blues. 

Several local attractions have responded to the pandemic by increasing the availability of their virtual offerings. The Barnes Foundation, Penn Museum, Mutter Museum, and many other sites continue to offer virtual tours, interactive activities, speaker series, and educational classes.

Most senior centers remain closed and will progress cautiously with reopening. However, many centers do offer virtual programming including art classes, discussion groups, exercise classes, and other activities. Older adults can call their local senior center to inquire about any virtual programming. The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (215-765-9040) can help individuals find a senior center in their community. The Free Library of Philadelphia also offers free programming for seniors including language classes, social groups, literary discussions, and speaker presentations.  

The internet also allows one to access sites and information from all over the world. Travel enthusiasts can check out online tours of everywhere from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic tundra. Theater aficionados can watch full productions from Broadway and the West End. Those looking to expand their academic knowledge can enroll in free online courses from universities around the world through platforms like Sites such as YouTube offer long lists of exercise classes, language lessons, and skill-building opportunities for a range of hobbies. Many organizations are seeking volunteer who can contribute their skills and expertise remotely.  

There are also opportunities to create one’s own activities and social engagements. Many older adults have been successful in creating their own book clubs with a group of friends, or organizing weekly game nights, or hosting virtual gatherings with friends and family. With all the stress of the current times, staying in touch with loved ones is more important than ever. 

COVID-19 has presented circumstances we have never previously had to face, and with this new territory it is important that we practice self-care and focus on our physical, social, and emotional wellness. The monotony of being mostly isolated for four months makes it easy to slip into a depressed state.  

Hopefully, finding these opportunities to connect virtually, explore new things, learn about interesting topics, and engage with friends and loved ones can support individuals as they stay safe at home. Having these outlets can add some structure to our days and integrate new activities into our weekly schedules. They also present ways to keep our bodies and minds active at a time that we may otherwise be stuck in our routines. 

Keep in mind that these suggestions depend on a person having reliable internet access to be able to connect to these virtual opportunities. Individuals looking for low-cost internet options should consider Comcast Internet Essentials ( Income-eligible individuals can also purchase reduced-price laptops and desktops through this program. 

Having interaction is a crucial part of human nature, and the importance of nurturing ourselves during this difficult time is so important. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been an extreme challenge, and as much as we’d love life to go back to normal right away, the reality is there are likely many more months of staying home more than usual in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Finding ways to stay connected and add new stimulating activities to our routines can help keep us out front of the COVID doldrums. 

Michael Bates is a volunteer with the LGBT Elder Initiative. He recently completed his Master of Social Service (M.S.S.) from Bryn Mawr College.

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