The other night, my husband and I had another conversation about the surge in Covid-19 cases, and whether we were doing everything in our power to keep our family safe.
See, back when when first began hearing about this virus, I knew it was going to be bad. Call me paranoid, but one of the reasons I’ve always feared zombie movies is because I realized “zombies” were a metaphor for a pandemic–and that falls in the category of one of my worst nightmares. So in January, when the news began speaking of a serious new virus emerging in China, I sat up and took notice. I began buying an extra item of the things we used most each time we went grocery shopping. Hey, if you’ve ever tried to get bread and milk when the weather channel calls for a coating of ice around here, you know that was a prudent move.
This was the disinfectant aisle at the local store back in March–but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Shortly after Valentine’s Day, I told my husband he should start working from home, even though his workplace hadn’t issued the order yet. We made the decision to split our family into two households as well–with my husband and the high risk family members in one home and me (an essential worker) staying on the farm to take care of the animals. We understood the need to flatten the curve and to protect the high risk family members as much as possible. I was the one most likely to bring something home, given my interaction with the public and the inability to work from home, and let me tell you, the steps you need to take every day to protect yourself under those circumstances is exhausting–and I’m not one of the people on the front lines. My heart breaks for the medical professionals who are being ground to dust by this terrible, relentless pandemic. I know just how lucky I am.
It doesn’t hurt that I’m not by nature a social person. Sure, I enjoy the company of friends and family. I miss not going to conventions this year. But even when I’m having fun doing such things, I need frequent breaks from people and I don’t enjoy big crowds. I don’t need people the way some of my friends do–as long as I have access to the small group of people I do need. I can wait for a movie to be released on DVD, or am willing to pay extra to see it live-streamed instead. I prefer hiking to shopping, and as for the holidays? Well, growing up with a mother who was anti-holiday has prepared me for shrugging them off and not making a big deal about them. It’s okay. They’ll be there next year.
My husband and I still got together once a week: socially distanced and outside. We’d grill burgers or steaks and sit in our well-ventilated mosquito tent until after dark, reading, talking, or playing board games. In a way, it was a throwback to a simpler, quieter, pre-internet time–and I will look back on those evenings with fondness in the future, I know.
As the days got shorter and a brisk chill entered the air, we moved our gatherings inside. Masked at first, but as time went by, we just stopped wearing them. Our social circle was still quite small. A week passed between each visit, so there was plenty of time to develop symptoms and avoid contact if necessary, right?
We were still being safe, right?
But then the case numbers began surging again–worse than they were when we first began touting “flatten the curve.” Worse than the worst projections of an incompetent and corrupt administration. I began to wonder if we were really being all that safe or smart. The whole reason we decided to split the family was about reducing the risks. Our indoor meetings, even though they met the state guidelines for gatherings, started to feel wrong. As if I were saying, “I know you have a severe allergy, but I only put one or two peanuts in this recipe. It’s not like I used a whole jar of peanut butter.”
Then came the widespread discussions about gathering for Thanksgiving–and I found myself telling friends and neighbors planning to travel to visit family that it was a really bad idea. But were we really being any smarter, safer? I was no longer sure.
Then there was the recent conversation I had with friends–all of whom believe in the necessity of vaccinations–and the unlikelihood of seeing widespread vaccination when we can’t even get people to wear masks. We aren’t going to even begin to get back to some semblance of normal without widespread vaccination against Covid-19… and I just don’t see that happening in large enough numbers to make a difference.
When I read Chuck Wendig’s Twitter thread about the widespread sense of entitlement we as a nation have these days, it was both depressing and infuriating. He spoke of people who would tell you in one breath about a social life scarcely any different than the one they lived before the pandemic and in the next breath say how serious things were and how careful they were being. Um, no you’re not. Not really.
It didn’t help much to know that my husband and I realized we weren’t being careful enough and that–at least for the time being–we needed to go back to only meeting outside wearing masks and truly keeping our social distance again. Because though on a smaller scale, we’d been behaving much like the people Wendig took issue with.
I have to pause here and say there isn’t any virtue in remaining virus-free. It isn’t because of clean living or moral superiority. Perhaps that’s the fatal flaw in our attempt to shame people into wearing masks because I do think on some level, both sides of the argument try to make this about virtue. It isn’t. It’s about science and the spread of disease. It’s about taking precautions and understanding that even under the best of circumstances, precautions can fail. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take them.
I found a measure of comfort in this excellent post by Linda K Sienkiewicz on Setting Limits in a Pandemic. She had some wise things to say about walking the fine line among friends and family who disagree with the perimeters you set for yourself in this perilous time.
It made me more comfortable with the conclusion my family came to this past weekend, and reinforced our decision to be stricter with our interactions instead of lapsing along with so much of the rest of the world. So this is my declaration of intent to continue to self-isolate. Yes, there are members of my extended family that we would love to see–seniors that may not have that many more holidays who want to see us too–and I’m planning for the day when we can visit them again. But not now. Not any time soon. I’d rather be overly cautious out of love than too lenient for the same. If that sounds like I]m assigning virtue to the decision, I don’t mean to do so. We’re just trying to make decisions we can live with. Literally.