GUY SMITH: Don’t lecture young people about social distancing. Tell them why.


Group of soccer players at Eastern Middle School the day before town parks and school fields were closed by order of the First Selectman. Photo: Leslie Yager

Submitted by Guy L Smith, Greenwich

Social distancing. Six feet apart. No groups larger than six persons.

Pretty straight forward. And most Greenwich citizens get it, understand it, and have been practicing it.

But here’s the deal. Defeating this scourge that has been inflicted upon humanity requires that everyone do their part. Ah, yes, you are saying to yourself, but I am doing my part. And that is dynamite.

Driving around Greenwich clearly people have taken First Selectman Fred Camillo’s and Gov. Ned Lamont’s admonitions to stay put are working. Not much traffic. Sadly, most businesses across Greenwich are shuttered, for the time being.

Here’s what is missing. Way too many groups, mostly of teenagers, walking and playing and hanging too close together, playing ball, actually shaking hands, and ignoring all of the social distancing guidelines. Why is that? Charitably it may be because they are less tuned in, less aware, and even if they are aware of what is happening around them at that age one feels immortal. Or maybe they just do not care.

Where does that leave the rest of us? In larger ways, we saw similar activity on the Florida and Texas beaches during Spring Break. That’s not what is happening in Greenwich, but what is happening is that we can improve our social distancing participation and make us all safer.

All the public health experts tell us that social distancing is effective and the evidence shows that it is working. Check out this interaction website from a company called Kinsa, which makes digital thermometers. The data tracks CDC data and it shows the Kinsa’s observations of the influenza-like illness level in the U.S. Looking at Fairfield County, influenza-like illness levels started to spike up on March 2, got really above the normal (of a normal flu season) at mid-March, and are now just about at an “expected” level for a normal flu season. (See Health Weather Map.)

This The New York Times article, Restrictions Are Slowing Coronavirus Infections, New Data Suggest, gives context to the Kinsa interactive map.

Shaming anyone, especially teenagers just does not work. Yelling at them will not be effective. Anyone who has had a teenager knows what that means. So, what to do? Talk to them, calmly and rationally. Explain the implications, especially that the most dangerous thing that they are doing is spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Of course, there may be those among us who still harbor some doubts about the whole thing, but the data and cooperation levels in our community show that that is not many. If you are a parent or a grandparent, or just a friend, of young people in our community have that conversation. Not a confrontation. A conversation. Calm and fact driven.

Don’t just lecture them or hector them. Tell them why? Explain why six feet matters. Explain why passing a ball back and forth just spreads the virus. Explain why more than six people together just raises risks for everyone. Also explain that this will not be forever. But understanding and cooperating can make a life or death difference right now.

Just the other day First Selectman Fred Camilo said, “We’ll have no tolerance for a game of pickup basketball or touch or tackle football. And Gov. Ned Lamont has reduced the number of people allowed to gather in groups. It is now six (6) people maximum while maintaining six feet of social distancing.

Everybody, not just young people, needs to know about and adhere to these guidelines. They are important and they will lessen an already terrible pain that our community is suffering through. Working together we will all be safer and better for it.

Guy L. Smith, a Greenwich resident for 36 years, is widely known as an expert in crisis planning and response. Over his career he has responded to and managed responses to disasters in dozens of countries around the world. Smith is a former Clinton White House advisor and senior global corporate executive.