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Using social distancing to test if technology can solve the loneliness epidemic

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Using social distancing to test if technology can solve the loneliness epidemic

Photo caption: Robin Utrecht / SOPA Images / SIPA USA. Article by Nicole Van Groningen, M.D.

As the coronavirus spreads exponentially across the United States, widespread social distancing is thought to be our best weapon against rampant transmission. Minimizing human contact can slow the rate of spread — flattening the curve — and avoid a surge of sick patients that would strain our health care system to a point where it cannot effectively care for them. State and local governments have imposed increasingly severe restrictions on the movement of Americans, and have ordered roughly 1 in 5 Americans to stay home.

The conundrum is that these mandates — prudent and necessary as they are — are overlaid against the backdrop of an epidemic of loneliness in the U.S. Avoiding events, parties, cafes, and even family gatherings is likely to increase social isolation among millions of Americans who already describe themselves as lonely. If the ultimate goal is holistic public wellness, we cannot ignore the unintended consequences of social distancing on other metrics of health. […]

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