Tuesday, March 24, 2020

BTRTN: Missing the Point... You Are Not Staying Home For Yourself, But For Everyone Else

Here’s a post you can forward to the people in your community who don’t get it, and are therefore putting everyone else at risk. 

We saw the video of the fools on South Beach. We gaped slack-jawed at the yawning stupidity of inebriated spring-breakers and the government that waited too long to shut it down. Wow, “they” are soooooo stupid, we all moaned. 

And then there is the less flagrant but equally dangerous South Beach right on your cul-de-sac. 

There’s that super-social couple who insisted on hosting a “safe” dinner party on Friday night, “safe” because no one had any symptoms, “safe” because it was out on the deck, and “safe” because all of the couples would remain six feet apart. There, they regaled each other with clever banter about all this corona hoopla, making light of husbands and wives now tripping over each other in confined spaces,  and as the evening wore on and the wine flowed, the group grew closer together – perhaps emotionally, but the point being physically -- as they shared their fears, their frustrations... and more alcohol. 

More neighborhood South Beach? A strong willed 87-year-old widow calls her son from her retirement home and recounts a litany of partially-understood cable news sound bytes that leave her terrified. She announces that she needs to come home and visit her family for the weekend. “I don’t care!” she barks. “I would rather have a few days at my own home and die as a result than live cooped up in that retirement community!” Her son, himself coping with the stress of running a struggling business in a pandemic, seeks peace through placation, relents, allowing her to come visit. After spending two days in the company of her son, her daughter-in-law, and two millennial grandchildren, the 87-year-old returns to the retirement community, unknowingly importing an invisible panoply of vicious microbes acquired from her seemingly healthy grandson into an extremely vulnerable community of octogenarians.

City South Beach? A group of thirty-somethings on the Upper East Side feel an urgent need to get out of their apartment, so they head out for a run on their familiar route on the path along the East River. They encounter friends and stop to chat. Soon, the narrow path is clogged as other runners and walkers struggle to get past the knot of people huddled in conversation. No one is at a safe social distance. One lone jogger’s noxious exhale at the exact wrong moment infects seven people. 

While many people have full religion on social distancing, there are too many people who are either not listening, or not getting the point. These are often people who fashion themselves as the rugged individualists who will face down the risk of exposure in order to maintain the semblance of a normal life. They are defiant in the face of a pandemic, and revel in the notion that they are gutsy enough to take the risk of being infected because it is so important to them to continue to live life fully. Some even strike a smug pose, implying that those who retreat to their homes are all too easily frightened.  

First, let’s be clear about what “brave” in the face of a pandemic truly is:

“Brave” is the medical worker who carries on, even as her years of education make her profoundly aware of the risks she is taking to honor the oath she made. 

“Brave” is the cashier at the Stop & Shop who is breathed upon fifty times in an hour so that we can stock up on toilet paper. 

“Brave” is the young couple who stay inside with small children, telecommuting to demanding jobs without the benefit of childcare. 

“Brave” is the young person who provisioned his apartment for a long stay because he listened to what local government and health officials told him to do.

“Brave” is the local government official who is compensating for the ignorance and incompetence of our Federal government by working twenty hours a day, fighting an uphill battle against “rugged individualists” who insist on traveling about town on unnecessary junkets to social visits with friends or simply to alleviate the tedium.

Hey, neighbor, may I explain something to you?

Yes, you are being reckless about your own exposure to this virus. But you are completely and totally missing the point of this lockdown.

The purpose of staying home is not simply to help you avoid contracting the virus. It is to prevent people who are carrying the virus to move freely in society, spreading it unknowingly to the medical workers, Stop & Shop cashiers, and local government officials upon whom we so dearly depend.

If you decide to sneak away on a non-essential dash to share a rosé with the girls and actually do encounter the virus, it will begin replicating in your body. You will begin shedding it across every surface, sneezing it across every shopping aisle, and spreading it to every person you encounter for a two to eleven day period before the first symptom of your own contagion appears… if, indeed, it ever does. As the victims of your contagion unwittingly travel through the population, hundreds of people may acquire the coronavirus before you feel the slightest bit ill. 

Neighbor, I am pleading with you – begging you -- to stay home save for absolutely essential trips. But –full disclosure – I cannot honestly say that I am all that concerned about you. I am desperately concerned that you, for lack of understanding, are unintentionally fanning the flames of pandemic, which risks completely overwhelming our healthcare system and dramatically increasing the impact that the coronavirus will have on our society. 

Your “safe” dinner party? One of the guests may have a son who decided to sneak out earlier that afternoon to visit his buddies, one of whom may have been at a party the previous night with a bunch of kids who are all home from college, and one of the kids at that party may have taken a flight home from spring break on South Beach. 

That guest, late in the evening, may have brushed up against another of your guests, who may have gone to the Stop & Shop the next morning, where they bought toilet paper by inserting their bank card into a reader. The next person to put their card in that reader? Perhaps it is the wife of the chief resident at the local hospital. The next person after that? A UPS driver on a break who will make stops at 47 residences and businesses in the next four hours, handling hundreds of packages. Then, the son of a cranky 87-year-old woman in a retirement community. Finally, the wife of the super-stressed out head of emergency management in your town. 

Please stop thinking that staying home is optional.  Unless you are making a vital contribution to the incredibly delicate ecosystem that must hold our society together, “brave” is staying home. Putting up with tedium, worry, and distance. 

You know that old saying… “Lead, follow, or get out of the way?” This is the unusual instance when the right answer – the brave answer -- is actually to get out of the way.

Get a hobby that you can do in your garage. Take piano lessons online. Read a book of poetry. Call your sister. Finally digitize those photographs and CDs. Clean out the attic.

Share an article you read online about the thoughtlessness of people who are behaving as carelessly as you used to. 

Think of it this way: if we all stay home now for a good solid chunk of time – a month, maybe two, who knows? – the sooner life will actually return to normal. Stay at home now so you can get back to being your good old, self-centered self as soon as possible. 

To all who are playing by the rules, sharing a common mission, and doing your part for the greater good, thank you… forward this on to those who do not yet understand. Tell them you are spreading some anti-viral marketing.

Tell them to stay home. 

If they won’t do it to protect themselves, ask them to do it for an even bigger reason.

Everyone else.

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  1. Good article. Makes me think of eliminating some of my own "minor" transgressions.

  2. Useful reminder and excellent scenarios to drive home the point.

    One other point ... if something IS going to drive you out of your home -- running out of food, for example -- take a moment and reach out to those around you who would also benefit from your trip. Finding out if a neighbor (especially one over 65) needs a gallon of milk or a dozen cans of cat food or perhaps even a lengthier list. Volunteer to briefly extend your necessary trip to eliminate another person's trip.

    1. Too bad the store won't let me actually do this. The limits per item make sense, but it makes it hard to help my neighbors.

  3. John,
    Great addition. Thanks so much!

  4. My husband lost his job due to this pandemic. My mom is older and has a poor immune system from just surviving cancer. I find my mother's life is far more important than my husband's job. His job is replaceable. She isn't. We can stay home and protect her and those like her.

    1. We ache for you and your family, and wish you well. Thank you for sharing your story.


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