Let’s get real here. We’re going to have to go this one alone.
We can talk politics, and lockdowns, and beach closings, and early openings all day. Although it can be instructive, and even fun, to discuss policy, it doesn’t answer the real question everyone has to ask and answer for themselves. That question is, how do we, personally, open up, or lock down, or in other ways handle coronavirus?
It’s not going away. Nationally, the IHME model, which is used by the soon-to-be-defunct White House Coronavirus Task Force, shows a bit of an uptick in deaths and infections the last few days. That could be the result of more testing, or it could be people getting antsy, going out and getting infected. It could be workers at food processing plants pushing just a little too far and having a mass spread event. It could be healthcare workers stretching one shift too many.
We’ve done our part and flattened the curve, but many people are stuck in indecision. It’s going to be another year, give or take, before we have mass vaccinations. It could be longer. How do we cope, personally, with the threat of a virus out there waiting for us?
For now, for furloughed or laid off workers, some are doing okay with enhanced benefits. Many are struggling, because they can’t file an unemployment claim, or because they might not be eligible. At some point, whether someone is paying the bills or not, going back to work will be a front-and-center need. That time is likely to come before the virus is no longer a threat.
State governors cannot keep their states in lockdown forever. Eventually, everything will be allowed to open, with restrictions. Before going back to work, the unemployed or furloughed will have to decide whether the health risk of working exceeds the risk of going to the store, or for a walk, or the mental risk of never leaving the house, or the economic risk of ending up homeless.
Lots of data, but little trust
The problem here is one of information and trust. For example, Georgia’s Department of Public Health updates their website twice a day. We can see, with a very high degree of accuracy, new cases almost as they are diagnosed. But what does that mean? As the new case count declines, the threat of infection remains, simply due to the fact that (1) not everyone is being tested, in fact only a small percentage of the population is being tested; (2) testing only yields information on a single point in time, so we can’t know if someone testing negative yesterday won’t be infected today; and (3) people who are infected can spread the virus for a week or more without symptoms.
These three facts make going anywhere where there are people you don’t personally know (preferably live with) risky. Checking temperatures won’t stop symptom-free carriers from infecting others. Businesses can ask questions to determine if a patron or worker poses a risk due to association with infected people, but that would pretty much eliminate everyone.
(“Have you gone to the store in the last week?”
“Sorry. You can’t come in.”)
At some point, every facet of life will boil down to a personal risk question. Going to the mountains? Going to the beach? Any travel to anywhere? Using a credit card (or handing one to a cashier)? Going through a car wash with a vacuum area (who used it before me?)? The smallest decisions will have to be reconsidered.
Eventually, each of us will figure out what makes sense, if we don’t learn the hard way first. It will become almost natural. For example, I have a rule: one store per day, and no more. Sometimes I forget to have hand sanitizer and a mask with me. Eventually, they will be as familiar as taking my wallet.
Then the larger, cooperative questions will begin to become important during the summer. For example, will our subdivision open the pool that beckons in warm Georgia spring weather? Will the church camp our kids want to attend actually happen? Our Vacation Bible School has already canceled and refunded our money.
What will we do with the kids? Museums will likely be among the last places to open. You can only go to the park and stay away from other people so many times. No pool, no camp, no group activities. We can’t let kids sit like couch potatoes and stream YouTube all day long, every day. More decisions, more risk and reward.
Some families will find out the hard way. Someone will get infected. Some will be a little bit sick and some will be very sick. Some will be deathly ill, and some smaller number will die. It doesn’t matter if the mortality rate is 4% or 0.4%, if your family member dies, it might as well be 100%.
We are now at the point where everyone looks at everyone else and says “you first.” Some adventurous people go out because they figure nothing bad can happen. And then we’ll have a spike in new cases. Some people listen to people on the news saying doomsday is coming and won’t leave their homes.
Some others think the whole pandemic is some giant hoax, and take insane risks with their health. They don’t deserve to get sick, and many won’t, further bolstering their conspiracy beliefs. But some will get sick, and some will get others sick. I have very little empathy for those who march for liberty while endangering themselves and others.
Wear a mask? Don’t wear a mask? Wear gloves? Don’t wear gloves? Are the neighbors really having a party? What is the acceptable level of risk? Who do we listen to? Who do we believe?
The president is not even in the ballpark of being a source of good information. He sells hope–and that’s important–but he isn’t leading. Governors are generally doing their own thing. Watching the news is an exercise in fear-mongering or political maneuvering, because crisis makes for good ratings, and calm, firm leadership is boring.
In this endgame of coronavirus reality, it’s every one for himself or herself. We can’t count on political leadership to get us out of this. They make laws, edicts and emergency decrees, but they’re impotent to help. That’s the reality.
The honest truth is that it doesn’t matter what politicians do. The U.S. government, and every state and local law enforcement agency, with their combined massive resources, could not make Prohibition work. Similarly, speakeasy COVID-19 restaurants and bars are already popping up in cities like Los Angeles. They’re not even hiding it.
When people decide to individually open up, they will do it. Others will continue to shelter in place. Staying home can reduce the risk, but it can’t eliminate the risk totally. At some point, unless you’re Howard Hughes, you have to interact with other people, and other people could infect you with coronavirus.
The reality will hit home soon. Trust God. Trust your family. But as for deciding when it’s right for you to open up, you’re going to do this very much alone.