SGN Some Good News: Staying Connected in Physically Distanced Times
Our Happiness and Wellness Initiative will share "Some Good News" from the SPH and our extended community. You can submit your own good news by email to: email@example.com
Delivery services and technology are creating meaningful interactions at a time when physical distancing and other COVID-19 preventive actions are keeping us apart. In-person interactions with friends and loved ones are being replaced with special deliveries from home and virtual time together.
Public Health Science major, Kelly Sherman ’21, has been finding ways to virtually connect with students, friends and family as she completes her senior year. Early in the pandemic, as director of health and wellness for the UMD Student Government Association, Kelly reached out to the University of Maryland School of Public Health (UMD SPH) expressing concerns about how to keep students connected to the most up to date COVID-19 science and resources, as well as to one another. UMD SPH Dean Lushniak invited Kelly to host a series of virtual conversations via social media. This partnership led to the creation of SPH Live: Life in the Time of COVID-19 online chats with Dean Lushniak, Kelly and special guests including vice president for student affairs Dr. Patty Perillo ’02 (Behavioral and Community Health) and UMD director of diversity training & education Dr. Carlton Green. The live chats were held weekly during Spring 2020 and are now taking place three times a semester.
During this time, Kelly has been away from home living in off-campus student housing. Missing her family, Kelly decided to schedule a weekly virtual dinner date with her grandmother. Throughout the pandemic, Kelly and her grandmother have connected via video chat to prep, cook and eat a meal together. This quality time together has strengthened their already close relationship and reintroduced favorite family recipes.
Speaking of favorites, Assistant Professor Neil Sehgal (Health Policy and Management), has been missing his favorite hangout spots from home. Before the pandemic, Neil frequently traveled to visit family and friends in San Francisco and Southern California. He often spent more time with his friends in California than he did in Washington DC where he lives now.
Sensing that Neil was feeling homesick, Neil’s buddy Dave, sent four pints of ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. Another friend sent a box of goodies from Neil’s favorite bakery, Tartine. These are the hometown spots Neil would want to return to on a first day back home – even with their hours-long lines. “It’s moments like these when you realize that people mean a lot to you,” said Neil.
In return, Neil has been baking and sending baked goods to neighbors, parents, family members and friends. One friend, Joe, a Los Angeles paramedic, is having a rough time serving such a pandemic ridden area. Joe calls Neil post-shift at least weekly and has shared the stressors of 24-hour shifts and losing lives before being able to transport people from their homes to the hospital. In support and appreciation, Neil mailed four boxes of home baked cookies to Joe and his station,
This has been the longest time Neil has been outside of California since birth (previously it had been as a summer intern). Technology has also been a connector with family and friends back home. Zoom’s platform has enabled Neil to attend three significant life events: a memorial of a friend lost to COVID early on in the pandemic, a zoom baby shower and a wedding—which Neil officiated.
Neil has stayed in touch with quite a large friend group from college. Prior to the pandemic, he would visit them in Southern California and spend a lot of time in his favorite hangout spot, a coffee shop owned by one of his friends. The coffee shop has remained open during the pandemic, so Neil sent masks to his coffee shop buddies once medical masks were available. He found black masks to match the punk theme of the coffee shop.
This friend group now comes together weekly to watch a television show, Seal Team, that one of his friends acted in. They watch the show for an hour, and then Neil spends the next hour or two sharing information on the pandemic. These friends used to talk once or twice a year, and now connect via Zoom weekly, with Neil up late night to adjust to the opposite coast time zones. The pandemic has brought them closer together, and Neil feels useful to them to share his public health knowledge, something that didn’t cross over into their worlds much prior to the pandemic. “It took the pandemic to make me realize that I can be with them through technology,” shared Neil.
Neil also continues to stay connected with his family in San Francisco. Neil’s Dad saves the best fruit from the pomegranate tree in their back yard to send to Neil, and his mom makes and sends jars of preserves. This pre-pandemic practice is now more frequent and helps Neil stay connected to home. He also enjoys frequent video calls with his parents and nieces via FaceTime. “My niece will grab the phone from my parents and show me things around the house in the same way that she would grab me and show me her world when I used to come home in person. She sings, dances, and most recently showed me her new variety of hair ties.”
Erin McClure, director of operations and diversity officer in the UMD SPH, has also been connecting with friends and family via Zoom that live in other cities and states. She participated in holiday cookie baking with neighbors and a former neighbor who moved to Boston, and she orchestrated a family holiday cookie baking project with her mom, siblings, and nieces who live in southwest Missouri, Chicago, and San Diego. Most recently, Erin enjoyed a virtual birthday party with a dear friend from college, where they played quarantine bingo.
“We’ve had to rework some of the familiar things we used to do in new ways to remain connected,” shared Erin, “and I’m finding that we’re actually coming together more frequently and in meaningful ways.”
While technology is not a substitute for being in person, we’re learning how technology can complement the in person interactions that we’re so used to and are missing now more than ever. Let us know what you’ve been doing to stay connected to your family, friends and community to stick together during these physically disconnected times by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See a gallery of images showcasing how we're staying connected below.