COVID-19 meets Time, Distance, and Shielding

March 17, 2020

One of the things I love about my brother-in-law, Lee, a Ph.D. Nuclear Physicist, is his ability to enthusiastically and skillfully explain complex scientific facts, theories, and challenges in ways that I, a non-scientifically knowledgeable person, can understand. I’m always intrigued by his research, experiments, and findings that range from, for example, deactivating nuclear bombs, global warming, and curing cancer.

In early February, when the Coronavirus’s severity and awareness were in its infancy, I had an unrelated conversation with Lee about the protocol physicists follow when ionizing radiation reaches dangerous levels. He explained that everyone should avoid all toxic exposure, which makes sense, but is it’s not always a viable option. In those instances, people should then follow specific sequential steps with the ultimate goal of reducing all levels of exposure to as low as possible.

My initial intrigue about this protocol related to my client work, as I was able to easily swap out radiation with personal and professional relationships. And now, with the rapid worldwide spread of the Coronavirus, I see in bright shiny lights how the efforts for containment align with Lee’s lesson. In all cases, while the risks are different, the goals are the same – mitigate all danger through the “time, distance, and shielding.”

The goal of never being exposed to toxic levels of ionizing radiation is logically accomplished by staying out of the danger zone altogether. In reality, however, this is not always easy to do, so you should, therefore, limit the amount of time you are in that area. If the risk still remains, create distance between you and the toxic zone. In due time, the dangerous levels should subside, and you will be able to return to this area but must always proceed with caution and shield yourself since some degree of radioactivity will forever remain.

As I think about the progression of the COVID-19 virus, it’s easy to see how this protocol could be the framework for the worldwide response. Initially we all contributed to the virus spreading like wildfire by going to work, flying on planes, eating at restaurants, sitting in classrooms and going to grocery stores. When the rate of people getting sick and dying rose so quickly, we responded by limiting the time we spent anywhere. But that too wasn’t enough. So now, here in the United States, businesses and schools are going remote, retail stores and restaurants are shutting down for a few weeks, and we are keeping our distance from one another – a practice we now call social distancing.

When the virus is contained, and the curve flattens, COVID-19 will still exist, which means that we will still need to keep our distance and wash our hands thoroughly. Hopefully, a vaccine will become available soon because that is also a necessary form of shielding that will help prevent this pandemic from rearing its ugly head again.

I’ve known Lee for more than 30 years, and this is by far the most powerful lesson I’ve learned from him. Initially intrigued by its connection to my coaching work, I would never have imagined that just six weeks later, it would also help me understand how this pandemic is being managed. While we need more than hope, I am hopeful that the COVID-19 toxicity curve will flatten by following this framework of “time, distance, and shielding.”

I am sending everyone healthy wishes!