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COVID-19: How You Can Convince You Loved Ones To Take The Pandemic Seriously

We all have that family member or friend who just doesn’t get how serious social distancing is.

We’re living in unprecedented times.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, people across Canada are being encouraged to practise social distancing and stay home. Offices, schools, public facilities, theatres and more are closing as governments attempt to fight the spread of a virus that has killed more than 9,000 people worldwide as of Wednesday afternoon.

Health officials are enforcing increasingly strict recommendations around social distancing,

“Doctors and nurses need your help. Your neighbours need your help. Vulnerable people in the community need your help,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, in a televised news conference Tuesday outside his Ottawa home. “As much as possible, stay home. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house. Things will get better.”

Specifically, Health Canada defines social distancing as reducing your contact with other people during and outbreak’s peak.

But what if your family member or loved one just isn’t getting the memo?

My grandparents returned from their annual RV trip through Arizona last Thursday, crossing mere hours before the Canadian government formally recommended against non-essential travel and only a few days before the Canada-U.S. border closure was announced. They’re currently partaking in a 14-day stint in self isolation — as is required for anyone arriving internationally — but periodically call my mom to ask if “popping out to the store for honey for their oatmeal” is OK.

It is not.

“As much as possible, stay home. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house. Things will get better.”

- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

It’s likely a familiar story, though.

My colleague’s roommate insists on riding public transit, inviting people over and “living her life as usual.” Another colleague’s father insists on taking clients in person rather than over the phone.

You might have a sibling who still goes out to a house party with three dozen people and comes back thinking it’s no big deal. Other may have an aunt who insists on going to her Zumba class,or immuno-comprimised parents who insist on going into work despite the option to work from home.

Social distancing works because we all do it. So how can you clearly communicate to them how serious this whole situation is? Here are a few tips.

Show them the curve

If your loved one is resistant to all of this, they likely are resistant to the ever present “flatten the curve” mantra. But it doesn’t hurt to remind them of the science.

Erica Rae Chong / HuffPost Canada

At a certain point along the vertical axis of the curve is the capacity of a country’s health-care system. That’s the number of patients who can be supported by a country’s beds or ventilators or doctors. If the curve goes above this line, health-care systems start to collapse and things get worse. But if it doesn’t, the outbreak remains manageable.

“The intent of flattening the curve is to ensure that everyone doesn’t get sick at once,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said last week. “We all have a role to play in reducing the curve; the curve, the extreme peak of illness all at once, is what puts your health system in crisis.”

Show them the graphics

If the curve doesn’t work, there are plenty of graphs and graphics out there that communicate the power and influence of just one person choosing to engage in social distancing.

They all follow the same philosophy — by social distancing, we limit the ways the coronavirus can spread from person to person, and slow its impact on the greater community.

Focus on what they care about

Give them examples of ways they can still do the things they love while practising social distancing. Help your grandma set up a way to play bridge online, or show your skeptical co-worker your own home-office set-up — remotely, of course.

WATCH: How to survive working from home. Story continues below.

Remind them of the costs of not following social distancing. The elderly and immuno-comprimised are most vulnerable to COVID-19. You skeptical roommate or reluctant co-worker likely has someone they care about in that demographic. Remind them that we’re all making sacrifices to help our most vulnerable populations.

Remind them that this is a generational crisis

COVID-19 represents a uniquely global problem. Everyone is impacted by it in some way, and in the future our society will look back on this as a turning point. Remind your loved one that we’re living through that turning point now, and it requires sacrifices from everyone around the world to fight it.

Pandemics of the past like the Spanish Flu or Plague didn’t have the resources for knowledge sharing we have now. People didn’t have ways to stay connected through the internet or understand the power of social distancing. But all that only helps if we work together.

Take care of yourself and those around you

At the end of the day, you can’t force people to do things. If your roommate is potentially bringing risk into your home and you’re worried, isolate yourself further from them. If a relative isn’t listening, it’s ok to establish boundaries for you or your kids.

“Once you’ve tried to make your point, it may be better to just try to see how you can both make this work,” therapist Marie Land told HuffPost U.K. “I know college students want to rent an Airbnb or stay with friends or other family because there are differences in how restrictive they want to be compared to their parents.”

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