We are a couple of weeks into our new COVID-19 shelter-in-place reality. It is starting to feel like a long time. 

Are we done yet? No.

Friends are starting to ask me about when they can start to do more things, like going to a neighbor’s house for a cup of coffee or setting up a play date with a friend. What about a pick-up game of basketball at the school yard? 

Is it time to start doing these things yet? No.

Define your Tribe

By now, most of us have settled in with a consistent group of people. These are the people you live with. This is your Tribe. 

Your Tribe may consist of your immediate family. Your Tribe might be a group of roommates.

If you are sheltering-in-place properly, your Tribe should be a stable and small group of people.

The strongest Tribes will be the ones who have no members who leave the house.

Your Tribe can protect you from getting sick, but only if every member commits to it EVERY MINUTE of EVERY DAY. 

Your Tribe may have an elderly member or someone who is medically fragile. If every member works to isolate themselves from the outside world, then your Tribe will be better protected than the others.

After about two weeks of isolation, if every member of your Tribe is still healthy then you are in good shape. You have created a protective circle around the whole group.

Now, the trick is to keep the circle intact.

How can you protect the other members?

It’s really simple. STAY HOME!

I know it is really hard.

If you cheat just a little, by meeting up with a friend for coffee, hosting a kids play date or have relatives over to visit, you are taking a significant risk in exposing yourself and the rest of your Tribe.

It just takes one slip up to break the circle.

Can you safely add members to your Tribe?

The answer is yes, but it is not easy to do. We must be aware of asymptomatic carriers – people who do not show any outward signs of illness, but are infected and still capable to spreading virus to others. 

No one knows for sure, but if you take the most conservative approach you could consider adding someone into your Tribe who has been truly isolating for about 2 weeks and still has no symptoms. This might come into play if you are thinking about moving in to care for an elderly relative.

What about going shopping?

Each time you leave the house, you should only be doing it IF, AND ONLY IF, you really need to. 

What if you have a craving for ice cream? Ignore it.

What if you are out of coffee creamer? Drink it black.

Shopping trips should be very targeted. Have a list. Go to one store if you can. Do your best to get what is on your list and then go back home.

You might not get everything on your list, but you can manage if you remember that you are trying to protect your Tribe.

How often should you shop? The fewest times possible. Make a game out of it. Start with a goal of one shopping outing a week, then try to make the next outing in two weeks.

Compete with neighboring Tribes to see who can last the longest between trips. 

If members of your Tribe are medically fragile, then ask around for a personal shopper or a delivery service.

What about going to work?

Do EVERYTHING you can to telecommute. Not every job will allow this, but do it if you can.

I happen to have one of the most hands-on jobs. As a pediatrician, I am used to being up close and personal to look in ears, mouths, noses and listening to lungs and hearts.

In a matter of weeks, my job has taken a dramatic 180-degree turn. Thanks to some vital changes in the law and a very dedicated IT team, we have become a virtual medical practice in a matter of days.

Now our patients can access us from their own living rooms by using a video platform such as Zoom. More members of our staff can be home with their families.

We are keeping more people out of urgent cares and emergency rooms. We are conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) for those who really need it at the hospitals.

We are able to practice social distancing in a setting that would otherwise be very high risk for spreading disease.

The learning curve has been steep and each day there is something new to troubleshoot, but we are working hard to keep you at home. 

Are we there yet?

Unfortunately, the answer is still no.

It may be months before the curve peaks. We need to settle in and accept that this is our new normal. For now.

Social distancing is extremely difficult for human beings. Our society likes to congregate. We are used to being part of a very close-knit community.

We’ll get back there, soon.

While you are socially distancing with your Tribe, don’t isolate yourself. Pick up the phone so you can hear another voice and stay connected.

Teach grandparents, aunts and uncles how to use technology like Skype and FaceTime so that your Tribe and their Tribe can keep in touch.

If there is a silver lining for me, it has been the chance to reconnect with my family and friends. 

I was blessed to train with some of the best and brightest throughout my medical school and residency training. We once worked long hours together in some intense trenches.

This crisis has brought us back together and we have reassembled our team to go to battle again, even if we are working in separate clinics across the country.

If each Tribe commits to keeping their circle intact, then our collective Tribes can work together (in an appropriate socially distanced way) to defeat this invisible enemy.

Dr. Dan Brennan is a board-certified Pediatrician at Sansum Clinic, who thanks you for staying home to protect your Tribe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please contact Dr. Dan at (805) 563-6211, drb@sbpediatrics.com or visit www.sbpediatrics.com.