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Staying social while distancing

First, they came for our gyms. Then, they came for our golf courses. For many, the last straw came last week when Sonoma County officials closed all the parks.

The announcement is part of strict shelter-in-place orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. The parks were one of the last places people could escape their homes for some much needed recreation and exercise.

But after a sunny spring weekend, people flocked to the beaches and open spaces, many not adhering to the 6 feet of space needed for social distancing. And so now parks are off limits, too.

It is a necessary step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. But for a lot of people, especially those with kids stuck at home with no school, the park closure was a gut punch on top of what has been a demoralizing month of hardship.

If we are learning anything from our self-imposed isolation, it is that humans are a social species. We thrive when we are together, when we work together and play together. Social distancing may be the antidote to cure the coronavirus, but it is a bitter pill to swallow with some harsh side effects.

Another thing we are learning from our experience is that we are an adaptable species. Take away face-to-face interaction, and we will come up with new ways to gather and be social.

If you haven’t yet bought stock in Zoom, it’s not too late. The video conferencing company, and others that provide a similar service, is enjoying a boost in popularity as people use it to virtually hang out with friends, teach a class or hold a work meeting.

The surge in telecommuting is particularly intriguing as more people are forced to work from home and rely on video conferences to connect with coworkers. If we can figure out how to maintain productivity while working remotely, telecommuting could be a game changer.

Scientists have already observed a noticeable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the shutdown, attributable in part to the lack of a daily commute. Traffic has been exceptionally light.

If any good comes out of our current crisis, it could be a rise in permanent telework. It may help solve our next two most important crises - climate change and housing affordability.

Think of the millions of commuters across the country, and the world, who are not getting into their cars and driving to work and home each day. For many, it will improve their quality of life as well as air quality.

And, once all of those office buildings are no longer necessary, that will free up land for much needed housing. We could rezone land from commercial to residential, and even convert unused office parks into affordable housing.

For those times when face-to-face work meetings are required, we will still have co-working spaces and conference centers.

This new way of working will take some getting used to - many people who have been working from home this past month have experienced amusing teleconferences where work life and home life collide - but it could have many benefits.

It will certainly be easier once bars, restaurants and parks reopen and we can start to socialize again outside of work.

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