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How long can you hold a burlap sack?

Maybe it’s empty, maybe it’s bricks, but you can’t put it down.

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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.

“Forever?”

“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.

 

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Health

We should be vaccinating the dumb and the selfish.

It feels counterintuitive to give people the vaccine who didn’t stay home and suffer with the responsible folks, but the vaccine isn’t a reward.

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So. A lot of people are asking questions like:

How did Chet get the vaccine so early?

Why did Chet get the vaccine and my grandmother still has to wait?

I see Chet and some of my friends flashing their vaccination cards on social media and going out to eat — who is letting them skip the line?

Where is Chet getting the hookup to get himself and his friends vaccinated?

Listen. Chet is probably selfish and dumb and he needs to be vaccinated.

A side-point real quick: asking someone how they got the vaccine early is none of your business because people don’t owe you a conversation about their medical history. It could be that Chet pulled some strings because he knows people, or it could be that Chet has a pre-existing condition that puts him at high risk that he hasn’t told you about because he doesn’t want anyone to know. If someone you know got the vaccine early, let them volunteer the information on how they did it. Otherwise, you’re basically asking “oh what disease do you have?”

Anyway, the vaccine rollout sucks, because this is the United States, and we don’t do anything without a high level of messery. We have 50 states with 50 different plans, so when you’re mad at Chet in New Jersey for jumping the line because your Grandma in Nebraska still can’t get one, you’re mad at two completely different administrations. Right now, I could drive across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan into New Jersey, give my friend’s Jersey City address, and tell Dr. Pandy with the Vacky that I’m a smoker, and they’ll give me a shot.

If you want to be upset, be upset at the system, not at the individual person, because if someone looks for a way to get their shot early, they should get their shot! There are doses going to waste. A doctor was fired because he took the rest of an open vial that was he was going to have to throw away and used it to vaccinate his family. The system is imperfect and poorly thought out, and I think a lot of people who are upset aren’t looking at the picture as a whole.

Vaccinations should work like airport boarding. Priority Boarding is called, and all the Priority people who are in the area go get on the plane. Then, Section 1 is called and they get on the plane. If someone from Priority comes up, they just get on the plane. Then, Section 2 is called and they get on the plane. If someone else from Priority shows up, they get on the plane. That’s how the rollout should work, but y’all want everybody from Priority to get on the plane even if some of them are still in the parking lot while Section 1 and 2 just stand around and wait.

There’s no “fair” way to make sure everybody gets vaccinated in the proper order. When you have the opportunity to get your shot, go get your shot. If you’re the type of person who wants to find a loophole to get your shot before other people do, then go get your shot too. Truth be told, I want Chet to get vaccinated because he never stayed at home anyway, so now he’s less of a danger to the public. All those people who couldn’t stop travelling and partying? I want them vaccinated! As soon as possible!

Nobody wants to say it out loud, but the fastest way to make the country safer is to keep the dumbest, most selfish people from spreading it so quickly. I’m sorry Granny has to stay in the house a few months longer, but she’s not the reason we’re in this mess. She stayed home and did her part. It feels counterintuitive to give people the vaccine who didn’t stay home and suffer with the responsible folks, but the vaccine isn’t a reward. It might feel like you deserve the shot because you did your best to keep the pandemic under the control, but it’s not actually a prize for good service to your community. The vaccine is a safety measure, and those people looking for loopholes because they never stopped partying anyway? Those people are unsafe and we need to be protected from them.

 

(Also: when your time comes for whatever reason, age bracket or medical history or profession or whatever, just go get it. You’re not more noble or responsible for delaying it because you feel others deserve it more. Every shot is a step closer to herd immunity.)

 

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The bodega man isn’t wearing a mask anymore.

He just got tired of it.

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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.

 

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Health

There are more new coronavirus cases in TX and FL than Italy at its peak.

Capitalism is COVID-19’s best friend.

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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.

italy

So I hope the newspapers and media outlets are churning out endless headlines about Florida and Texas now.

florida

texas

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.

 

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