How to Come Together Without Being Together During This Pandemic

UPDATED: March 31, 2020
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2020
coming together during a pandemic

We’ve always come together when times have gotten weird; when the future has felt unpredictable and frightening. It’s how we cope. It’s how we tend to realize how strong we are and what we’re capable of overcoming. So for events that we commonly enjoy to be canceled is frustrating. To be told to isolate ourselves goes against what we’ve come to think of as the healthiest ways to resist panic: the comfort of togetherness. 

Ultimately, the reality we’re facing is that “social distancing” is a societal responsibility; it’s, among other things, a way of protecting those in our communities who face enormous risks if infected by COVID-19 (all of us know people who fall under this category, by the way). To interact with groups means potentially spreading the virus, and once (if) the virus has spread to a certain degree, the people we are trying to protect will get it. 

So, if isolation is the solution to the problem, it’s a relatively simple one. We must stay home and away from groups to whatever degree we’re able. But solutions to large problems pose problems of their own, and social distancing is going to have negative consequences on many people.

The spirit of coming together isn’t actually to stand face to face with one another. It’s helping people affected by a crisis. At some unknown point, we will make it to the other side of this pandemic. When that point comes, there will still be goals we want to reach, problems we want to fix, and lives we want to live. Let’s talk about how we can come together now and help others overcome something we’ve never been through.

Who is financially affected by social distancing?

While I understand why anyone would take it seriously, it’s important to look beyond the stock market when we talk about the negative relationship between a pandemic and money. For one, the stock market, by its very definition, is capable of returning to a high point from even its lowest points. That isn’t necessarily true of every person’s quality of life once their mandatory bills and payments begin to exceed their means of income. And for the economy to return to a point of normalcy requires individuals to be able to support themselves before they have disposable income. 

But above all that: I ask you to think about individual humans and how they get by rather than thinking about numbers. Stadium vendors are out of work. Waiters normally live off tips. Small businesses don’t have the luxury to reassess every financial quarter; they are staying in business on a month-to-month or week-to-week basis. Freelance workers will get no paid leave. Substitute teachers are not salaried. 

While we can always hope that the very fortunate will be kind enough to try to help, and we can hope that some government interventions can send some lifelines, there’s one type of entity that is unlikely to extend a helping hand: landlords. I’d ask you to think about that notion for at least a few more seconds. In 2020, the landlord is often not a person but a large corporation that can’t be reasoned with. The vast majority of Americans earn the rent that’s due on the first of the month during the previous month. Even if given an extension on rent, how are they supposed to earn double their rent the following month when their income has halted to a stop?

There’s a global crisis happening right now, but imagine the prospect of being evicted. Imagine your sister with two children being evicted. Imagine your brother with a medical condition being evicted. That is an individual crisis by any definition. 

How can I help?

We’ve seen some great responses from high profile people with the means to help. NBA players like Kevin Love and Zion Williamson (who is a 19-year-old rookie) have pledged to help pay the salaries of arena workers of their home stadiums, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has declared that hourly employees will continue to be paid while the NBA is on hiatus. Some CEOs are sacrificing their salaries in order to institute paid leave for their employees. 

But I know that many of you are also affected financially by the types of things we’re talking about, so you can only help in small ways. That’s how we truly come together. So let’s talk about it. These are just a few ideas; maybe they’ll help you come up with more of your own. 

1. The power of the gift card:

A lot of businesses will suffer, but we’re not talking about financial reports for some of our favorite local businesses. We’re talking about businesses shuttering and never returning. Many restaurants took out loans to open in the first place and pay high rent costs for the property they’re operating out of. They simply can’t survive a month of little to no business. 

So how can we responsibly help keep them in business? Call or go online and see if they offer gift cards or if they’d be willing to write up and sign off on a gift card they would honor later. This is by no means a donation. You will need to eat meals down the line, as well, and it will be a nice relief to be able to finally go back to your favorite spots. They need the money now. You can enjoy the benefits a little later. 

2. Tip well:

This one is obvious. If someone is doing something that requires a tip, please understand that they are receiving far less tips than they normally would be and they have a base pay well below minimum wage. Staying away from public places is the best option, but if you do end up getting service somewhere you feel isn’t crowded (or get takeout or delivery), then I implore you to tip more than you normally would. That person would love to self-isolate, but they need the money they’re counting on you to give them. 

3. Can you give someone paid leave?

Do you normally have people come to your home? Babysitters? Housekeepers? Tutors for your children? Do you need them this month? Would you feel more comfortable not bringing people into your house or apartment during the pandemic? I know not everyone is able to do this, but if you are, you might consider providing them paid leave. If you value their services, then consider it an investment; if their circumstances change for financial reasons, then they may not be able to work for you down the line. Do you want to reward reliability? 

4. Musicians sell merch:

This might seem small, but in the streaming era, very few people buy albums, so musicians’ primary means of supporting themselves is excessive touring. It’s a difficult life, but it allows them to live their dreams and make something beautiful that fans are passionate about.

Taylor Swift and Jay-Z and Ed Sheeren will be fine, but there’s nothing better than seeing that less-famous band or singer or artist in person when they come to town. I’m talking about that one who you’ve convinced a couple friends to check out. The one who you listen to when you’re having a rough time. The one who, as cheesy as it sounds, feels like your musician. A huge loss in tour dates might impact their ability to make another album next year, which might affect their ability to come to town next year. 

Go to their website and buy a t-shirt or a poster. You’ll be excited when it comes in the mail, and supporting art that we love feels good. 

5. Practice and explore self-sustainability and moderation.

A global crisis leads to panicked behavior. That’s only natural. But you want to be able to look back and be OK with how you handled the adversity. We’ve all witnessed ransacked grocery stores in the past week, and it can feel like a sign of the times. 

But rather than raiding a store as if the amount you can fit in your grocery cart indicates how long you’ll survive, perhaps you can take this time to practice and explore some sense of self-sustainability and moderation. When I suggest that we consider looking into growing our own fruits and vegetables, I don’t mean that we’ll need it to survive some sort of dark ages. But it might be a good time to wake up to how dependent we all are on extreme convenience for our most basic needs (no one is more guilty of this than me). 

But in simpler terms: We need to be rational with our shopping and considerate to our neighbors. While we want to go less than we normally would, the grocery store will not be off limits to go back to during the pandemic. Leaving the shelves empty by getting 10 of every product is selfish. Take a look at your eating habits and try to cut out some excessiveness. And please, take advantage of leftovers. Don’t throw any food out. This is how we should already be living. Let’s use this time to re-learn these habits. 

And one other little trick: If the grocery store is looking barren, try your local Asian supermarket. Many citizens tend to not consider these communities for their everyday shopping. You can avoid the chaos and support the business of hard-working people. Plus, you can learn to cook some new dishes with some flavors and combinations of foods that are a little more exciting than your typical meal. 

We can come together without being together. So let’s help and make a difference where we can.

Photo by Tim Mossholder/

Jonny Auping is a freelance writer based in Dallas.