Baby Boomers and the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Wayne W. Clark and Woodrow W. Clark II (*)

I (Wayne) lived through the AIDs epidemic (1980s) in the San Francisco Health Department, we were confronted with one of the several USA epicenters. Although I was without significant risk factors, such as  being a man that had sex with other men or an Intravenous drug user; my wife and I were friends and colleagues of over 40 young men who eventually passed away during the peak of the epidemic. My wife and I wound up being bed side visitors of very sick young men, we greeted their out of town families as they arrived, and we all too often were the organizers of memorial services. How I wished that I could have prevented all those deaths.

Today with the COVID-19 Pandemic, there are some lessons to learn from the AIDS epidemic. Foremost, realize that this is serious, when first aware of the disease we did not know what it was, how fatal it was, who would get it and we did not know how to treat those afflicted. We did not have a clear way to prevent it from spreading. Since young men were those with the symptoms, quickly it became apparent that men who had sex with other men were especially at risk and needed to get the word out to gay men to change their behaviors.

Recommendations about safe sex practices and public health policies were promulgated, such as bath houses where unprotected sex was rampant were shutdown. There was a hue and cry from the advocates, but nothing like the painful cries we heard in the hospitals from those suffering from the ill effects of the virus. Woody during this period was active in educating and correcting the media.

I (Wayne) will never forget one friend in his hospital bed writhing in agony and yelling out that he promised he would never have sex again. Unfortunately, he was right, he passed away shortly after leaving the hospital. Now with the COVID-19 virus we both see colleagues and friends similarly seeing this pandemic as a problem of inconvenience rather than a problem with life threatening consequences. The concerns we hear, are ones of wanting to do the usual things that provide pleasure, despite the risk: go to bars, eat in restaurants, participate in group social activities, and proceed with vacations. If we do not see the risk in the current normal and take personal responsibility for changing our social interactions and activities, we will instead see unfortunate damage that Covid-19 can have as It spreads across the USA and the world.

What can we Baby Boomers do, well first recognize that we are a society that is comfortable with what we do on a daily basis and we don’t want to change? This is an awareness that the social norms we have at this time with this pandemic need to change. We have to create alternatives that give us time to get back to normal but meanwhile allow us to thrive. Resiliency in this case is accepting the dangers of the old norm and creating a new norm, hopefully temporary but extremely important to start sooner rather than later.

The new norm is adapting to the policies such as shelter in place, self-quarantine, and practices like social distancing recommendations for social interaction. The comfortable areas we had under the old norm are for instance our focus on sports whether as a player or an observer, this sport comfort has changed already, from little league to major league, from the soccer fields to the tennis courts, from the stadiums to the gyms, from the observer on the couch to the fan in the stands. For those focused on sports, we have to accept that now a great part of our leisure time is going to be at home, with our family or if we are single, alone. We can benefit from the technology of the 21st century to be with our friends, families, colleagues thru the internet, whether it is texting, chat rooms, zooming, facetime, conference calls, gaming, etc. We can have social interaction (albeit digital) in the comfort and SAFETY of our homes.

Boomers are especially challenged with social interaction during this pandemic for several reasons. Many of us are already isolated, retired and alone. Others are far away from family; others have not learned all the newfangled technology; others already have chronic health conditions; and this only adds to our troubled health. Yet there is hope. Let’s dig into the opportunities we have in the 21st century that will help us rise above this epidemic and thrive, while providing guidance, strategies and solutions for our children and grandchildren. Let’s start with advice from one of Wayne’s professors in college who when asked about life challenges said: “It’s not whether problems will occur in your life, it’s how you handle the problem”.

Today we will discuss several ways that boomers are handling their emotional and physical wellbeing during Covid-19 pandemic problem. We will look at different ways that boomers are using the extra time they now have, whether it is due to shelter in place, self-quarantine, or just not able to go the movies, theater, religious gatherings, sporting events, and other social interactions with over 10-50 people. We now have significant changes in our daily routines, no longer do we have hours to spend regularly in leisure social and relaxation activities, whether at home watching sports, or attendance at activities and events. The abrupt elimination of those activities has created a void in the average boomer’s life. What to do with the time and the different level of social interaction. We see very innovative ways that boomers and others are spending the new gift of time.

I (Wayne) want to first put on my behavioral health glasses to remind us that addicts are often confronted with the intentional and at times abrupt loss of their favorite activity, whether it’s using substances, electronic media or engaging in a sporting event (as a participant or fan). Those of us in the addiction field often see similarities in these behavioral and social interactions. To be clear, I am not saying that sports are addictive, whether it is hours in the gym, running 10 miles a day, playing golf every day, or just sitting in front of a tv watching your favorite sport. I am saying that the sudden loss of any one of those activities is similar to withdrawal in addiction. Those addicts have to change what they do, where they go, who they go with, and how they plan and use their time. A new normal is needed for living everyday life, which due to the pandemic for different reasons we are all facing.

We can learn from the addict’s experience; for instance, continuing with sports, both participants and observers (fans), since those who watch sports in their leisure time are also going through withdrawal. Different from the withdrawal when a season ends, instead no live sports whatsoever, baseball, basketball, pro and high school, at every level. Boomer fans have found ways to come down form the time they spent on their favorite activity. Seeking help for filling the void; understanding that despite our years we do not have all the answers; allowing others to reach out to us; and reaching out to others that we haven’t contacted in a while. Sites on the internet that allow us to participate and chat with others, all being done interpersonally without face to face contact while keeping social distance. We can be more active ourselves, participate in activities such as small group bingo games, bocce ball, bird watching, hiking, walking our dogs. If activities that involve physical exertion is not what you want or can do, then how about learning to play an instrument, picking up a paintbrush or a camera, playing card games, board games, showing that Julia Child is not the only one that can cook and even trying some of the grandkids electronic games. The list can go on and on, just check your local news media and there will be creative ideas.

There are many other ways to spend your time, reading books, writing books, sewing, knitting, gardening, and honey dos around the house. The latter is a whole set of opportunities that can evolve into money making activities as well as just plain ridding yourself of lots of the stuff you have accumulated. Garages need cleaning, closets need sorting, bookshelves need to be minimized, weeds need to be pulled, etc. etc.  

Two essential problems in the new normal of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of an epidemic are loneliness and time, what to do with your time so you can stay socially active and use your time to its best. Before the epidemic all too often you hear people say, I just don’t have enough time. I can’t do that I don’t have the time; this is not the right time to do that, I need more time to complete it. Well friends as the Rolling Stones said, “time is on your side, yes, it is”. This pandemic could last for weeks, months, years, or even a decade or two. Take the time that you now have and will have to connect with old friends find new friends, reach out to family, and spend the time to connect with others. 

 (*) Woodrow W. Clark II, MA3 PhD  [email protected] and Wayne W. Clark, PhD [email protected]