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First responders and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic

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journal contribution
posted on 15.10.2020 by Tara Rava Zolnikov, Frances Furio

Social distancing is the practice of physically distancing (e.g., 6 feet away) from other people. Social distancing has been implemented as the primary intervention against the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce transmission of the virus between people. While this is beneficial, there are effects that could result from the lack of social interaction. This study reviewed the effects of social distancing on first responders—an at-risk population who were the most exposed to COVID-19 and suffered from increased adverse mental health outcomes as a result of their position in the first line of defense. By using a phenomenological qualitative study, 31 participants were interviewed to understand if social distancing affected their lives in any significant way. The results of this study determined that social distancing occurred within families and friends, which was difficult for a population that heavily relied and needed support during this challenging time. Additionally, social distancing occurred in the workplace and that affected first responder’s ability to work effectively in their occupation and with patients. Both these situations caused anxiety and stress in first responders. Overall, distancing may be contributing to some of the poor mental health outcomes that are currently researched in first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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