Ready or not, here we go. Despite rising numbers, not enough tests and no protocols in place for tracking or monitoring, the United States is “reopening” after “closing” at some point in March or April or even May depending on where you live.
And there’s certainly a need to get our businesses and economy rebooted. However given the general lack of coordination or preparation at the federal level, we’re entering yet another maze of unknown unknowns.
One thing we do know, however, is that life must go on. But how? What are the rules? How do we comport ourselves in the midst of a pandemic?
Say you want to leave your house – which seems like the first step in any kind of “reopening.” Do you need a mask? Gloves? Sanitizer?
There are two considerations. Decent human beings obviously want to keep themselves safe but they also want to protect others. Why single out “decent human beings?” In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been an outbreak of “I have a right to” popping up around the country.
This vaunted “liberty” that certain folks are touting these days seems to leave out the responsibilities associated with preserving that liberty for all of us. Once more we go back to “your rights end where my nose begins.” And since there’s still no reliable or widely available way to determine who’s carrying the virus, decent human beings wear a mask to protect others and wear gloves and use sanitizer to protect themselves.
What does that mean in practice? When you’re alone in your yard or in your car or in the street, you don’t need a mask. But once you’re within six feet of anyone or when you’re approaching a potentially crowded area mask up. And any time you enter a store or place of business, on goes the mask whether you can see anyone near you or not. And then wash your hands or use sanitizer first thing when you come home.
Okay, you say, I’m happy to do the right thing. But what about the folks who don’t? We still have to live in the same world. How do you cope without pulling out a machete?
I’m with you when it comes to the machete. And the minute we descend into total anarchy, you’re good to go. Until then, it’s best left in the holster. Meanwhile, there’s “the swerve.” If you’re a walker, you’ve seen it. Walker A is headed your way. So you, Walker B, swerve out of her path, taking over the center of the road until she passes and then heading back to the shoulder. As to who swerves first? Experience has shown that the politest person swerves first. Just make sure to check behind you for cars and bikers. Doesn’t help to be the politest person in the cemetery.
All right, you say, we can find our way around each other on the road. What about in stores? Let me just go on the record here and say that anyone who goes into a store without a mask should be shown the door. It’s just plain rude. Think of the poor storeowners and clerks breathing your nasty effluvia. We know that catching the virus depends on exposure plus duration and they’re stuck breathing your exhaust while you waltz out the door with your package. So put on your damn mask. And support the storeowners and clerks who have to make that call and escort people out.
As for folks who push their carts the wrong way down one-way aisles. In my book, you’ve lost your campaign for sainthood and are headed straight to hell. Because basically you’re saying I’m more important than you – which is the absolute opposite of manners, which is all we’ve got left at this point.
But what if you absolutely positively must have that thing you forgot and you don’t have the time to go back around? Leave your cart at the end of the aisle and scuttle back down the aisle like the terrible human being you are and snag that bag of Ruffles and get the hell out. And don’t forget to say “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
Which brings me to lines. It’s an awful thing to be trapped between folks who refuse to wear masks and are crowding up on you. You can try the “step aside” – a classic maneuver in which you leave your cart in the line and step to the side to achieve the desired six feet distance from the mouth-breathers surrounding you.
If that doesn’t work, you can try the “holding my breath” – good in combination with “the swerve” while on your walk but not so good on line unless you’re the Harriet Houdini of breath-holders.
There’s the “Back. Off.” accompanied by “the glare.” Sometimes effective, although not so much against the “I have a right to’s” – see above – who tend to see it as an invitation to an argument.
And then there’s the “Downright Lie Accompanied by a Cough” as in “I’m so sorry but I was just diagnosed and I don’t want to get you sick so I think you better move back. Cough. Cough.” You have a special dispensation to lower your mask for that one which always works – unless you’re in line with the same people you were in line with last week.
All of these techniques will help. However they’re no guarantee. Because the sad truth is, nothing has changed. We may feel entitled - we’ve stayed home and followed the rules and deserve a break. But we still don’t have a cure. We still don’t have a vaccine. And there’s more of the virus around us now than in March. So the reality is that despite the warm weather and our cabin fever, all we have to protect us is our own behavior – our manners, if you will. Because all those unbelievably dedicated healthcare workers can only take care of so many us at a time. So mask up, people. And wash your hands. And stay home as much as possible. Or we’ll all suffer the consequences.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.)