Coronavirus Chronicles: The Social Distancing Police

Social distancing Brianna Taggert

Image courtesy of The McLeod County Chronicle.

Today, I saw a news photo on social media that was taken by a former intern of mine. Brianna Taggert is working for The McLeod County Chronicle in the small Minnesota town of Glencoe. Her photo shows people kneeling in a public square in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Four people in the foreground are kneeling close together.

One social media commenter criticized the protesters’ lack of social distancing. I’ve found myself thinking the same thing when I see personal posts on social media of big families, who I know don’t all live in the same house, getting together for gatherings during the pandemic. It’s only natural to question the wisdom of this.

However, I’ve refrained from commenting. I don’t know the circumstances of the people involved.

  • Maybe they are all living together temporarily and are exposed to each other every day – they are in a pandemic social bubble together.
  • Maybe they’ve all had the virus and are not contagious now.
  • Maybe they’ve all been super careful about their exposure and have made a considered, conscious decision to expand their bubble to include other family members now.
  • Perhaps the viewpoint of the images gives a false impression of how close people really are to each other.
  • Maybe the photo was taken a year ago.

For example, in the protest photo I mentioned, it looks like the people in the foreground who are right next to each other could easily be members of the same family. They are well away from other people. Seems pretty responsible to me. For the people in the background, I can’t really tell how close the groups of people are to each other because of the viewpoint of the photo. But if they are family groups, it looks like they are appropriately distanced.

The New York Times posted an article about social bubbles back in April. It offers excellent commentary on this topic.

One of Brianna’s professors from the University of Minnesota Duluth, John Hatcher, said this about the photo:

It’s Brianna’s “second day on the job and she’s covering what may be the most important story of her career. What I most appreciate is that this story shows us that the impact of George Floyd’s death is not just being felt in larger cites or solely by people of color. This is a story that is prompting action by people across our country and the world and in even in Glencoe, Minnesota, population 5,467. Let’s hope all of this is just the beginning of how we all reflect on what needs to change in our society and our own lives.”

That’s the real takeaway message of this photo.

Of course, this photo is different from images of protests in larger cities where it’s obvious that people are not practicing social distancing. And that’s why public health officials have asked them to self-quarantine for two weeks. I have serious doubts about whether any of them will do so, but I can’t control what other people do. I can only control what I do, and I can make suggestions to my family about what we should do.

I refrain from commenting on social media because I am not the social distancing police. And even if I did comment, it’s not going to make people change their behavior. Such commenting is for public health officials, not me.

Please, think twice before you make knee-jerk judgments on such photos. I’m not trying to control what YOU do, just making a suggestion to think before you type.

6 thoughts on “Coronavirus Chronicles: The Social Distancing Police

  1. Other thoughts: Brianna was a recipient of the Gustaf and Mary Nordin Memorial Journalism Scholarship (my stepfather and mother). I met her and her parents when she received the award. She is a force; I love following her budding career.
    Also, Glencoe still has a journalist covering what happens there via the McLeod County paper. That’s something to be grateful for as we see the loss of so newspapers around the country.

    • Thanks for commenting Sherry! Yes, Brianna was super-capable and talented. I am glad to see she has a job in journalism. She was our River Talks speaker series student blogger. Her parents came to her final River Talk — so good to see their support for their daughter. They must be very proud. And you are right about the McLeod newspaper. I hope it’s able to survive in this new era. It’s so upsetting that the Duluth newspaper is having to cut back so much.

  2. Another thought about protesting during social distancing is prioritizing the risk. Some, I have heard, see the protests as a high priority and are willing to risk it. It might not be the best health risk decision but if they have thought about in this light then I guess it’s their decision.
    I took a risk attending the Duluth protest being careful to keep my distance while wearing a mask but others were not.
    These are trying times for all of us, some more then others, life does not stand still, it keeps bringing challenging issues piled on top of one another.

    • Yes, I hear you about the idea that the risk taken by protesting is worth it, for some people. In fact, I admire people who are willing to put themselves on the line like that. I wish I could, but I am in a high-risk category already, so don’t feel like it would be wise for me to do so.

  3. In the end each of us is responsible for our actions. I don’t have any problem social distancing as I don’t get out that much. And you are right, we shouldn’t judge just by a photo. I admire all those that are willing to get out and demonstrate peacefully! It is amazing.

    • Hi Jo Nell. Yes, I admire the peaceful protesters also. I wish I could do it, but I am in a high-risk category, so don’t feel that it would be wise for me or for my family.

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