Of course our phased reopening of the economy had to degenerate into a circus; there is nothing in the US right now that doesn’t split into factions somehow.
I live in Washington state, north of Seattle, almost at the Canadian border, which has been closed for months. My county made it to Phase 2 of the Safe Start Washington program. Phase 1 was total lockdown with essential businesses and services only. Phase 2 allowed some businesses to reopen with safeguards to prevent spreading the virus. Thanks to people who are overeager to let up on restrictions, we have failed miserably at reaching the milestones to allow us to move on to Phase 3. In the rural communities north of the college town of Bellingham, there are large numbers of protesters who refuse to wear masks and gather freely—you’ve seen the news stories. I’m baffled that these people exist within a “hot spot” area. I could see it in a rural county in a part of the US that hasn’t seen any cases, but how, in a region where everyone knows someone who has been seriously ill or died, do people maintain their position that COVID 19 is a hoax?
It’s frustrating and potentially deadly for those of us who aren’t likely to have an easy time with the virus. People say we should take responsibility for our own health and continue to quarantine, as if complete isolation were even possible. I’m much better sequestered than most, yet I had to take a test two days ago to rule out the virus as a contributor to symptoms I had during a migraine that were outside my normal pattern. I had been to a medical office where one of the doctors had just been isolated with an active infection. We were never in the building at the same time, but exposure was possible. This all happened among people who took full precautions when going out. What happens when you throw anti-maskers into the mix?
My friend, let’s call her “Kelly,” has a serious illness combined with an autoimmune condition. She lives with her boyfriend, “Keith.” Keith’s news comes mainly from his golfing buddies and conservative radio shock-jocks. Like many of the people he hangs out with, he’s decided that he doesn’t believe the statistics being reported by the CDC. Somehow Keith has escaped the stomach-clenching rounds of twice-daily texting with sick friends to make sure they haven’t become too ill to help themselves. He hasn’t had to deliver groceries to the doorsteps of sick friends, then cajole them by phone into eating, because they have no smell or taste to stimulate an appetite. Somehow, in this county, he and his golf buddies have not only escaped this, but any firsthand knowledge of it going on.
In the beginning, Keith was downright paranoid, handling his phone with gloves on and distancing far more than 6 feet. A video went around in March, with footage too dark to see, but audio of Chinese doctors allegedly shooting patients in Wuhan. Keith was convinced that this would be the scenario in the US as hospitals flooded with patients. I immediately checked the video on Snopes and showed him that it was a hoax, but he was not convinced.
Three months later, Keith is sick of protecting himself against this unseen specter and he goes to work, and to play golf with his friends, without a mask. All of this happens outdoors, so maybe it’s not so bad, but whatever exposure he has out in the world, he brings home to Kelly. Kelly doesn’t have a very good chance of surviving the virus if she gets it.
This is where the logic falls apart in the notion that people who are at risk can simply choose to remain at Phase 1 in their own lives. We do not all live in isolation. We can’t all protect ourselves from the world. We can’t always count on the people who love us to protect us. And let’s say you do live in isolation and you are able to keep from ever going out—all it takes is one home delivery to expose you.
Let’s consider Uber Eats Driver Jane. Jane lives in Compliant County, where everyone wears their masks and chooses not to get nonessential services, even if businesses have been allowed to open with safeguards. Jane makes 25 deliveries on a 4-hour shift. Jane visited 3 houses where the virus was present, but because everyone masked up and washed their hands, she didn’t spread it to anyone on her route.
Jane’s twin brother Joe drives for Uber Eats in Liberty County, where there are lots of protests, businesses operating in spite of closure orders, and few people wearing masks or bothering to wash their hands carefully. COVID parties are the latest fad, and Joe has delivered to a few. Joe sanitizes his hands between orders and wears a mask himself, but by the time Joe gets to his 25th house, he’s been breathed on by 12 infected people, some who don’t know it yet, and despite his best efforts to keep from spreading pestilence, he’s a regular Typhoid Mary. Joe has a partner at home who is HIV positive. Let’s take a moment of silence for him, shall we?
When my friend Kelly calls for a food delivery, she’s much better off if Jane comes than Joe. You see, even with her best effort to isolate, Kelly isn’t in complete control of her exposure. It matters what the other people several degrees of separation away are doing. It isn’t as simple as having her hide away while everyone else does whatever they want. The behavior of everyone in the community affects her.
I know in this audience, I’m preaching to the choir. If you have a Keith in your life, maybe show them this. And I’ll do my best to try to keep the real Keith from infecting Kelly. (Lest you suggest that Kelly could do better, let me assure you Keith does have many redeeming qualities and he is my friend too, but he doesn’t read my blog.)
Are you in higher-than-average danger from the virus? Are you experiencing a difference in the level of caution with people around you?