The following is a quick break from travel content, as the first of two coronavirus pandemic opinion pieces I have had in the works. I appreciate any and all comments, just keep things civil.
Man, what a year it has been. Wait. I guess it has only been about two months. The news cycle just makes it feel far longer. The changes to our country and world were sudden and intense. I couldn’t peel my eyes from the news starting in late February, looking for every bit of new information I could. Tracking the progression of new cases in the Johns Hopkins GIS dashboard became a daily ritual, which moved later to searching for new results of the various antibody studies.
But now I am weary of it all. I cannot wait until life heads back toward normal. The pandemic hasn’t player out as seriously as initially expected, which is a very good thing. The issue now is when and how to head back to normal. The funny thing is, things haven’t actually been as radically different for us as I thought they might.
Glad (Yet Again) We Don’t Live That City Life
The urban-rural divide of the biggest divides I see with both the coronavirus spread and response. The statistics and stories coming out of New York City are certainly concerning. So much of the news has focused on this one area. It’s weird to see empty streets and bridges, as so much of the city has shut down.
But not everywhere is like NYC. Honestly, NYC is an outlier among U.S. cities. For one, it has over twice the population density of any other major metropolitan area. You also have tons of people commuting by subway or train rather than by car, increasing exponentially the potential level of exposure. Here you need a car for almost everything. You can enjoy parks, beaches, etc. without even worrying about exposure.
Small town life during this time is different, but I’m glad it not a major departure from normal. Sure, schools are closed and all our kids are home. Some businesses have had to shutter during this time. Knowing people who are out of work and have an uncertain future is the hardest part for me to bear. But a good number are still operating.
Traffic is the same light experience as always. The picturesque landscapes, excellent recreation opportunities, and beautiful coastline and beaches (just don’t swim!) remind me yet again what a lovely corner of California we get to call home. The break from traveling during the pandemic has helped me appreciate it even more.
Which does lead me to a level of frustration with the broad policies being handed down from those on high.
Don’t Panic. Be Reasonably Responsible.
The hysteria during this time, along with the response of cities, counties, and states, irks me the most. I’ve read some ridiculous stories in the news. A father was handcuffed in front of his daughter for using the park. A man was arrested by police for paddle boarding in Malibu. People have been told that parks, beaches, and other public spaces are closed. You can’t even jog in some places. I find this patently ridiculous.
I’m so glad I see none of this here. Some people wear masks. Others don’t. People are overwhelmingly respectful of distancing from others. I’ve yet to observe anyone screaming at people to keep their distance or “mask-shaming” others. People are being reasonable on both sides rather than running to judgment. Businesses are accommodating the social distancing, but not being over the top about anything.
The old guys still congregate on the street for a chat (although one group stopped their morning coffee get-together). The corner store is still open and hasn’t put up a plastic barrier. Sure, there is some extra hand washing, but people overwhelming aren’t freaking out. Yeah, I gotta wait to put my stuff on the conveyor at the grocery store, but that’s about it.
Even though I have the option to work from home, I still go to the office. Sure, I cross paths with my boss and maybe one coworker for a day each week. None of us have a problem with this. We’re respectful of distance, but I’ve also *gasp* shaken hands a few times. The construction guys still come work on the building next door.
We still allow our kids to have friends over from one other family, and they have our kids over as well. Is this irresponsible? Not at all, although you might disagree. Our circle has shrunk considerably, as all the kids’ activities and events are canceled and school is closed. Having friends over from one other family will hardly have any effect on the potential spread of the virus.
A friend and I still take walks together 1-2 times per week. I take a walk by myself most days. It’s hard not to when the weather is amazing. Do we wear masks? No. We’re outdoors, and there is literally no one else around.
The gist is that I generally trust others to be reasonably responsible in our community. You want to wear a mask? Fine. You don’t (assuming you’re healthy)? Also fine. For me, the real issues start with the policing of all these measures, which hasn’t happened here, to my knowledge.
My Issue With The Heavy-Handed Lockdown
Our county did just lay out the requirement for everyone to wear masks in indoor spaces and some outdoor situations. This meant I had to find a mask, as we didn’t have any. I wore it while shopping on Sunday, more because it was a requirement by the stores to buy food than my interest in complying with any health edict. I certainly hadn’t worn one the previous week. I’m not sick, and haven’t been sick since early March (yes, my defiance toward any requirement being handed down by bureaucrats runs strong).
Our county has had 53 coronavirus cases and zero deaths. We have a population of over 130,000 people and a density of merely 35 people per square mile. To reiterate: we’re not NYC (and asking to be treated accordingly). The relative risk of infection is low, and, as more antibody studies are released, the risk of death is low as well, lower than initially estimated by the models. It is a good thing that the estimated death rate in the U.S. kept being revised downward!
We’re now aware of the virus and its risks. What we are becoming aware of is that, yes, while it is serious, it is not as serious as we first suspected. In light of that, the broad-brush lockdown policies may not have been necessary. Plus, I look around me, and life hasn’t changed all that appreciably for so many (except for those out of a job), so the relative effect of the policies can’t be as extreme as we’ve hoped, either. The data is continuing to roll in. Ending the broad lockdown will likely not be bad as many fear (if you read one linked article, read that one).
What worries me most is the loss of freedom. Yes, the government steps in and says what its doing is for our protection and safety. I bought this (with some grains of salt) at first, but I really don’t any more. Publishing the data, informing people of the risks, and making recommendations is excellent. But when we’ve so quickly moved to having drones patrol the streets to make sure people are social distancing? We’re one step closer to a dystopian future.
The fact that the LA mayor encouraged people to snitch on others’ social distancing is abhorrent to me. This isn’t the sort of society of which I want to be a part. If the gravity of this is lost on you, please pause and consider the sort of wedge this would drive in a community. So much is being driven by fear. We cannot start fearing each other.
All this to say: I’m thankful that I live in a rural area where things aren’t being taken to an extreme by the community. Reading stories from other places makes me wonder how we headed down the road toward out-of-our-freaking-minds crazy so quickly. There are calls for a restructuring of social norms both during and after this pandemic. I don’t see this as justified, not given the current revised total death rate and high incidence of coronavirus within the population based on these first antibody studies.
Let people use the beach. There is a lot of it. Let them be out enjoying the sunlight, kicking the soccer ball at the park (at least where it’s not taped off and closed). Let them go for a jog without cuffing them. Most people will take reasonable precautions. If you’re one of the worried ones, keep staying home.
At this point, the economic suffering we’re headed toward is what worries me the most. I’ve avoided discussing this directly in this post, but the fact that we are headed past 20% unemployment is highly concerning. It is not selfish or stupid for someone to fight for their livelihood. I say this as someone who has not been affected economically at all by the pandemic. If you’re response is “but people will die,” then consider the cost of a major economic downturn in terms of life as well.
This is a real cost. I know families who do not know how they will pay their mortgages or put food on the table. Poverty is correlated with death. We just won’t see the effect for a while.
The idea was to flatten the curve for the healthcare system, not eliminate death entirely. We’re not God. The system has thankfully not been overloaded, and it is looking more and more unlikely to be overloaded. Selected quarantine and sheltering of the vulnerable seems to be the most prudent strategy at this point for everyone as testing becomes more widespread.
Let life move back toward normal everywhere. Right now, I’m glad things are mostly normal here. And dreaming of when things are “normal” enough to travel again.
I welcome honest debate, and would love to hear anyone’s view in the comments. If you’ve made it here, thanks very much for reading!