COVID-19, Social Distancing, and an Ethic of Care

Rethinking Later-Life Care in the U.S.

  • Nari Kim University of Delaware
  • Lindsay Naylor University of Delaware
Keywords: Social distancing, isolation, emotions, care ethics, U.S. eldercare


In 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disrupted life around the globe. In the United States, governors issued state of emergency orders and mandated shelter-in-place and social distancing measures. While these measures are important, they ignore the nuances of risk for vulnerable groups, such as older adults. Moreover, social distancing measures made more visible the reality that many patients in care homes often die in isolation. In this commentary, we argue that a rethinking of later-life care is necessary and to understand this need, that critical geographers should expand on how we evaluate care. Here we start from a space of radical care ethics to examine the emotional experience of place and the role it should play in how we think about later-life care. Reflecting on state-mandated social distancing, we show that the current system of geriatric care in the United States does not promote dignified living for older adults and how older adults’ complex emotions are ignored in current later-life care. We conclude by recommending that the emotional experiences of place must be taken into consideration for scholars examining place-based later-life care of older adults.


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How to Cite
Kim, N., & Naylor, L. (2021). COVID-19, Social Distancing, and an Ethic of Care. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 21(1), 65-80. Retrieved from