What can we do to minimize the effects of social isolation when that seems to be the best hope of keeping people safe from COVID-19?

That question is foremost in the hearts and minds of those throughout the four counties of the Diocese who strive daily to insure the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of its vast and diverse population.

“Pick up the phone,” Danica Rivello urges those who want to help.

Rivello, director of outpatient services for Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton’s Early Intervention Support Services, said the key is to remain in contact with those who are struggling, which will help regulate their emotions. “Help them focus on maintaining a schedule, which assists in managing depression brought on by isolation.”

“You need to stay in touch,” she said. “Encourage loved ones and friends who are already anxious and depressed by social distancing to take time out from media and social media because constant exposure will increase anxiety.”

“It’s like dominoes,” Rivello continued. “We want individuals to not catastrophize, but to focus on what they can do, what they can control, and accept what they can’t change.”

STICKING TO ROUTINES

Putting the emphasis on what can be controlled during an epidemic is something Dr. Valerie G. McLaughlin gained expertise in during the Ebola scare in 2013.

Dr. McLaughlin, chair and medical director of emergency medicine in Trenton’s St. Francis Medical Center, recalls a lot of training on using screening equipment at that time.

“The difference now is that the infection is much more pervasive, so it is much more challenging to do the screening. A lot of planning, preparing and organizing is going on [in St. Francis],” she said.

The most important thing the community at-large can contribute to the effort is focusing on their own well-being and that of their loved ones.

“Go on doing as many normal routines as you can,” Dr. McLaughlin said. “Healthy eating, exercising, drinking water, staying connected to family and friends all are musts.

“If it can’t be done in person, do it with phone and video chats,” she advised. “Do the best you can with communication.”

WORKS OF MERCY

For Peter Haas, diocesan coordinator of jail and prison ministry, and Father Thomas Barry, prison chaplain, just getting the word out about spiritual support for the incarcerated has been a concerted effort. Jails and prisons are currently closed to visitors to reduce the spread of the virus.

“I’ve asked all of our [50] volunteers to pray for the incarcerated,” said Haas, who encourages faithful throughout the Diocese to remember prisoners, corrections officers and staff in prayer.

To their prison contacts, Haas and his team have sent a coronavirus Novena from the Knights of Columbus and a pamphlet on how to say the Rosary. They also sent an invitation to pray the Rosary with Pope Francis during his worldwide recitation March 19.

“Everything we sent [to the prisons] was well-received,” Haas said.

Father Barry said stay-at-home orders may lead to empathy for those who are incarcerated, especially with the whole world being told “now you can’t go here, now you can’t do this, now there’s a curfew.”

“This might help us to understand what prison life is like. It might help us relate to them,” said Father Barry, parochial vicar in St. James Parish, Pennington, St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell.

KEEPING FAITH

For Sandra Mullarkey, a registered nurse and pastoral associate in St. Anselm Parish, Wayside, this period of social isolation has been a busy time. While assisting the pastor, Father Eugene Vavrick, in keeping parishioners up to date with diocesan and parish news and information, she makes it a point to learn how they are doing as well.

That involves sending out emails and telephoning those without access to the internet. She follows up with a letter to those she can’t reach in a timely fashion.

Mullarkey urges parishioners to join her in this effort by reaching out to others to “make sure they have everything they need” in the way of medication, shopping or contacting family and friends.

“This virus is unbelievable. But we are doing the best we can,” she said.

She advises drawing strength from reflecting on how past difficulties were overcome.