The LA Times is reporting that Los Angeles County has extended their shelter in place order through July. I’m expecting Cuomo and de Blasio to keep extending NYC’s every few weeks, so it’s effectively the same thing. And I think it’s time to talk to your friends and your loved ones and your roommates about how you’re going to see each other and stay safe.
I would love to be able to say “Yeah! We can do it! Shelter in place for the good of the community!” but clearly we can’t.
We’ve seen the videos of parties and the pictures of crowded parks and everybody isn’t built the same way. Instead of sneaking off and endangering people without their knowledge or consent, we all really need to be honest with the people in our lives about how much we’re prepared to distance.
The only advice I have is to build a circle that you trust and you all agree not to venture outside of that circle. It’s definitely hard in a place like NYC where most people have roommates so your circles expand exponentially, but it’s better to know what your roommates and friends are doing so you can protect yourself and your space accordingly. I know both of my roommates each want to see one person. If I also know that that person isn’t seeing anyone else, I feel safer. If I know that that person has open communication with their roommates who are also only seeing one person (and so on down the line) I feel like the damage is as minimal as possible. If the person you want to see does not have that agreement in place with the people they live with, then that is not a person I’m comfortable with you seeing. All the way down the chain — the link should break when you run into someone who doesn’t live with people who are on the same page.
One of my dear friends has two roommates where one is behaving and one isn’t. That’s not a friend I’m comfortable seeing because I don’t know what their roommate is bringing into the house from all their excursions. Another friend has a roommate who only sees one person, and that person only sees him back and lives alone. That’s a closed circle. I feel like I could safely see that friend.
Do y’all follow me? These are the kinds of conversations that will have to be had going forward so people don’t reach their breaking point of No Human Contact and end up at a house party with 50 other people breathing on each other. Think about your friends, who is responsible, who is living with others who are responsible, and figure out how you’re going to get through the summer as safely as possible. And then potentially the fall. And maybe winter! We are going to be dealing with this until there’s a vaccine because this is what the government would have to do for us to resume our daily lives without risking thousands of casualties:
South Korea and the US reported their first coronavirus case on the same day. The population of Seoul is 9.8 million people. It’s a densely packed city with an extensive subway system. Only two people have died from COVID-19. Two. In NYC — population 8.4 million — the death toll is over 5,000. That’s why you need to have these conversations about how you’re going to stay safe and still see your friends, about how you’re going to keep everyone in your home and community safe. I don’t have any science-based wisdom to impart here, but just from a common sense standpoint:
1) Pick a friend to hang out with who lives alone so you don’t have to worry about contamination from roommates.
2) Pick a friend in walking distance. All public transit is dangerous, and getting into an Uber somebody just got out of isn’t all that safe either.
3) Take a two week break. Hang out with those people you trust for a few days, and then everybody agree to isolate themselves for two weeks, which is a few days longer than the incubation period of the virus.
4) When you leave, wear your mask at all times so you don’t potentially spread the virus to strangers. Stay six feet away from everybody you meet. Wash your hands.
Don’t throw parties. Don’t be selfish. Don’t be stupid. But be honest with yourself and everyone you know about how much social distancing you personally are prepared to follow-through with.
How long can you hold a burlap sack?
Maybe it’s empty, maybe it’s bricks, but you can’t put it down.
Let’s do a thought exercise. You’re in a room with nine other people and an instructor. The instructor tells you to hold your arms out to the side, so you look like the letter T. There are twenty burlap sacks and he tells you that each pair of sacks has a different material inside. Two have cotton balls. Two have potatoes. Two have tennis balls. Two have bricks. Two are completely empty. The actual materials don’t matter — just picture a wide range of weights and you have no idea which sacks contain which materials.
He walks around to each of you and gives you two sacks, one for each arm sticking out to the side, parallel to the floor. He gets ready to leave and tells you all to hold out your sacks until he gets back, but you don’t know when he’s coming back. There’s an implication of a vague consequence to the other people in the room if you drop your sacks, but you don’t know what the consequence is or even if it will apply to every other person, but you all know that you’re all supposed to hold your sacks until he returns.
Your sack has tennis balls. It’s heavier than you want it to be, and the person across from you seems to have cotton balls because they’re not struggling at all. The person next to them obviously has bricks because they’re about to buckle almost immediately…and they do.
“Sorry. I couldn’t hold them. It was too heavy.”
The other nine of you are disappointed, but maybe the consequence won’t be too severe if only one person cracked. You hear a whisper from the person next to you.
“How long do we have to do this?”
“I’m not sure,” you reply.
“Until the instructor comes back and tells us we can stop. Why? Is yours heavy?”
“No,” the person says. “I’m pretty sure it’s like feathers or something, but this seems stupid. That guy already broke the rule so we’re gonna get punished anyway. Why do the rest of us have to keep doing this?”
“The instructor could come back at any minute and tell us the exercise is over. Just keep at it.” But your tennis balls are getting heavier, and you’re wondering how long this will go and how much pain you’ll end up enduring.
Someone else breaks.
“Sorry!” and they open the bag. “I had potatoes.”
Time passes. A few more people break, and the ones who are still holding their bags are starting to feel the strain as well. They’re upset that they’re still suffering while the ones who gave up are sitting on the floor chatting, waiting for the instructor to tell everyone else their time is up.
You people are weak. You’re a disgrace. You had one job.
We were hurting! And we had no idea how long we’d be hurting!
Still, we’re holding up our end of the bargain and you all gave up! We’re hurting too!
But we reached our limit! You don’t know how heavy our bags were!
That’s no excuse! We had our orders! Now we’ll be punished!
I was already being punished and the instructor didn’t even give us an idea for how long we’d be suffering!
I’m sure y’all see what I’m getting at by now.
I was having lunch with a friend (@Pardee) the other day and we were talking about online shaming of folks who haven’t been the most responsible during the pandemic. He suggested I think of social distancing and the marching orders we’ve been given to stop the spread as a weight of indeterminate heft that we have to hold for an indeterminate length of time, so I did. I’ve been on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, people make larger sacrifices for the greater good all the time. Why can’t some people go a year without hooking up while people at war have gone longer without seeing their spouse? It’s so simple to just stay in the house and stop the spread of COVID.
On the other hand, I don’t need people or social interaction or parties or sex really. I’m fine sitting on the internet for my human experience. I can fill up the rest of my day with crafts and art. My best friend lives down the hall. My other best friend lives a pleasant walk down the avenue. When the pandemic started, the government gave me an empty burlap sack to hold indefinitely. Is it annoying not to know when I can put it down? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? A bit. Am I in excruciating pain? Absolutely not.
The government gave some people a bag of bricks and said “hold this until I tell you to stop.” Those are the people who need social interaction to flourish. They need parties, they need energy. They need sex even. I don’t know what that feels like, to need to see people, the same way I wouldn’t know what it feels like to hold a bag of bricks if I had a bag of cotton balls. So how helpful is it to yell at those people and tell them they disappointed all of us, that they should be ashamed of themselves, that we are holding our bags so why aren’t they? If you had just put down a bag of bricks because it was too painful to keep elevated, would having people yell at you convince you to pick them back up?
I’m not insensitive to death. I went to a Zoom funeral in April for a family member because of COVID. But the low probability of a stranger dying is such a vague consequence to the majority of people. There’s really no other way to say it other than just being blunt about it. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that as soon as you drop it, you will have to go to your grandmother’s funeral, they will hold the bag of bricks until they physically cannot anymore. Some people will endure physical and lasting harm to save the life of a loved one. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that if you drop it, someone in the room may have a very small chance of going to their grandmother’s funeral, they’re not holding the bag indefinitely. At the beginning it’s okay, I’m saving someone’s grandma but after some time passes it’s okay, I’m really suffering here and there’s a greater chance I will die in a car accident but I haven’t stopped driving so why am I in such pain for something that likely won’t happen?
It would be great if everyone reacted to every situation in the most optimal fashion, that everyone’s response to any circumstance or crisis was the best response for the good of society, but that would require every person to enter that crisis with the same resources and the same needs. We went into this expecting the same result from an endlessly wide range of people, but that makes no sense. If person A is 5’1″ and weighs 98 lbs and person B is 6’3″ and weighs 205 lbs of muscle, how do you expect both of them to hold a bag of anything for the same amount of time?
So. Some people put their bags down. I stopped being upset about it a long time ago.
Some of those people who put their bags down are walking around the room taunting everyone else who is still holding a bag, and that part is indefensible to me. If you want to party, go party. If you want to party and then post it on social media to show everyone else what a great time you’re having while they are still trying to uphold their end of the contract, that’s a level of shallow narcissism I can’t chalk up to being an extrovert who needs to be around people. That’s a character flaw for which I have no justification or empathy.
And now we’re moving into the next phase of this virus, where some people are vaccinated and some are not. When you see a group of people eating in a restaurant, are they supporting a business, that is forced to be open, because they feel safe enough to do so with the antibodies they’re producing, or are they eating out and damn the consequences because they just need to be social? Are they in Tulum because they’re trying to resume normal life after a year of doing their part, or is it just the next vacation on the list while demand is still lower? There’s never been any nuance in online shaming, so now what do we do with that broad brushstroke over everyone doing something that looks unsafe or irresponsible during a pandemic?
The point I want to leave you with is that we long passed the point of a social contract signed by the majority to behave a certain way to stop the spread of COVID. When we all got our bags last March, most of us were of like mind: we’ll hold these bags for a few weeks until the government comes back in the room and tells us we can put them down. But no one told us we could put them down. A few weeks was repeatedly extended until the time looked indefinite. The bags were heavier to some than others. The potential consequences looked more vague to some than others. And now some of us are getting texts from the instructor that we can put them down — some of us are getting vaccinated — while the rest are still holding these bags until some as-yet-to-be-determined date in the future.
You have a responsibility to yourself and your community to stop the spread of COVID as best you can, but we as a collective don’t need to waste so much useless energy yelling at people who’ve already put their bags down. We don’t know what they were feeling and no amount of chastising will make them pick the bags back up. We’re all just doing our best waiting for the instructor to come back into the room.
The bodega man isn’t wearing a mask anymore.
He just got tired of it.
I just went to go pick up dinner from an Indian restaurant a few blocks away. I passed by maybe 20 or 30 stores: laundromats, bodegas, 99cent stores, restaurants, bike shops, etc. There wasn’t a single place where everyone was wearing a mask.
I live in Harlem. When Biden won, there was partying in the streets. It’s a liberal neighborhood with an overwhelming majority of non-white people. It’s not an anti-mask, white Republican area that says COVID is a conspiracy.
Masks are no longer a political statement; everyone is just complacent.
I don’t even like going to my favorite bodega anymore, because of the three people who work there, only one wears a mask, and that’s only half the time. They know my breakfast order when I walk in, but I stopped going, because they don’t wear masks.
They’re not showing the overcrowded hospitals on TV anymore. Nobody is really talking about the lack of beds or the exhausted doctors and nurses. Therefore, too many people stopped taking it seriously, and they’re not going to take it seriously, because nobody is forcing them to.
Society in general has a limited capacity for prolonged negativity. Once a story has been terrible and dominating the news cycle for long enough, it becomes the norm, and nobody cares about it anymore. The news has had a steady undercurrent of COVID information for the past 9 months, and now, too many people have tuned out. So many people went home for the holidays this week, rational people who would never have thought of getting on a plane in April or May. We have more daily cases and deaths now than we did in April, but the difference is people don’t care as much, because they’ve maxed out on the negativity and they don’t hear it now. They don’t process it.
So yeah, the anti-mask conspiracy theorists and COVID deniers are terrible. They’ve been terrible this entire time. But now they’re not the only ones without masks. The neighborhood bodega man isn’t wearing one either, because he just got tired of it. And that’s so frustrating.
There are more new coronavirus cases in TX and FL than Italy at its peak.
Capitalism is COVID-19’s best friend.
Back in March, every other coronavirus story started with Italy.
Look at all the cases in Italy.
Look at all the deaths in Italy.
Italy is the center of the pandemic.
Italy is in dire straights.
Italy waited too long to lockdown their residents and now they’re paying the price.
At its peak, COVID-19 infected over 6,000 people a day in Italy.
So I hope the newspapers and media outlets are churning out endless headlines about Florida and Texas now.
Here in New York, we saw over 10,000 new cases a day back in April because we were unprepared. The government ignored the writing on the wall for a few weeks longer than they should have, and when they finally read it, the response was too weak. The numbers skyrocketed because we didn’t learn our lesson from Italy, and NYC was depicted as the most dangerous place in the US all over cable news. Friends and family from across the country asked me about bodies piling up and outdoor hospitals.
But we got it under control. We’re under 400 new cases a day. NYC has a <1% infection rate. I don’t know how long these numbers will last now that the city is opening up again, but everyone on the subway is wearing a mask, restaurants are taking social distancing seriously with their outdoor seating arrangements, and testing is free and widely available.
If you live in Texas or Florida (or anywhere really), you have to be upset at your government for not learning from New York the way we didn’t learn from Italy. In Italy, the peak was March 20th. In New York, the peak was April 14th. We had less than a month for the situation to settle in. The rest of the country has had three and a half since Italy, and two and a half since New York.
There is no excuse. None of this had to happen and the onlyreason the caseloads in Florida and Texas almost four months after we knew exactly what would happen are now higher than the peak caseload was in Italy is money. The federal government doesn’t want to give it to you to keep you safe and local government wants you to go out and generate it to keep the most abusive segments of the population happy.
Capitalism is COVID-19’s best friend.
I love Black people.
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