To others, social distancing's reprieve from hugging and hand-shaking is satisfying.

Street Roots editor's note: People living alone during the coronavirus pandemic were interviewed for this story. We took the unusual step of granting anonymity upon request in order to obtain authentic opinions and private details on this personal subject matter. In those cases, we've altered first names only.

COURTESY PHOTO - Professional cuddler Samantha Hess hasn't had a lot of outside human contact since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in mid-March.No one has been cuddled at Samantha Hess' business, Cuddle Up To Me, since widespread quarantining began in March. Hess founded the 24-hour business in Portland seven years ago, a service where she and her staff cuddle with people for $1 per minute.

Most people need the love that comes from being held, Hess said. That includes her, she added. She is too broken up to say much more, she said. "This has been personally devastating for me, and I can't think about it more than I already am," Hess told Street Roots in an email. "I can't stay hydrated enough for all the tears."

But social distancing isn't difficult for everyone.

Cuddling people for a living? "That sounds like the worst thing in the history of badness," said Joanne, a high-end Portland real estate agent who lives on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She hates being touched.

"To me, honestly, one of the best things about staying at home and its associated protocols has been that I no longer have to worry about being touched when I don't want to be," she told Street Roots in an email exchange. "I hate hugging, shaking hands, all the casual friendly contact that seems to be de rigueur."

She insists she is not anti-touch. "But I am against feeling pressured to accept touch that I did not explicitly invite and which I cannot refuse without hurting someone's feelings," she said. "I am actually really worried about how my stress level will skyrocket again when and if casual touch is once again normalized. I didn't realize what a horrible drain it was on me until it went away."

The pandemic has also paused on Michael Dukart's touch-heavy work. These days, he spends more time than usual watching old television shows. He provides massage therapy to his clients in Salem, but with the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown, business has slowed to nonexistent.

This Street Roots story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.


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