As the number of positive COVID-19 cases climb across the country, people are being strongly encouraged to practice "social distancing" in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

With this drastic shift in lifestyle, health experts fear an uptick in feelings of loneliness and social isolation — for both young and old individuals — which have been shown to relate to more serious physical problems over time.

"Now we have a situation where we're being asked to have social distancing — there are folks that may not have experienced that sense of isolation and loneliness, that are now in positions where they may," said Stephanie Hunsinger, state director for AARP New Jersey.

"We want to think about how we're checking in with our loved ones," Hunsinger continued. "It's really important for there to be talks between family and friends, developing a plan to stay in regular touch as we socially distance ourselves."

Hunsinger said plenty of the 50-and-over population represented by the organization is well versed on smartphones and their ability to handle video chats with distant loved ones, or even those down the street.

"Even if folks don't have access to that, we do still have our phones. So we can pick up a phone and just call someone," she said. "I know it seems old fashioned these days, but it's a great way of staying connected and just hearing someone's voice."

Working from home, along with avoiding most public places and even the homes of parents and siblings, can contribute to feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

According to America's Health Insurance Plans, younger individuals may be at greater risk for this emotional distress — specifically those who must shift from a hustle-and-bustle lifestyle to working from home five days a week.

In a 2020 Cigna survey, 79% of individuals aged 18 to 22 reported feeling lonely, along with 71% of millennials and 50% of baby boomers.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.