We Asked Americans To Sacrifice “For Weeks” And Then Changed The Rules, So They Quit The Game
The one thing that I have noticed in the ongoing “we need to keep social distancing and mask wearing” narrative is that everyone involved can separated into two groups:
- Those who think this is now a permanent way of life or will be for years.
- Those who think it will be over by early next year with a vaccine or drug.
Almost exclusively, the former group is more likely to say “it’s time to get our lives back to normal and live with the virus,” and it’s the latter who thinks we need to keep stringent measures in place long term or perhaps go back into a hard lockdown. After all, it’s only for a little while longer.
And as we see social distancing break down across the country, including now in New York City itself – a place praised for its dedication to COVID-19 mitigation – we’re left to wonder, what is the timeline and what are the metrics for reclaiming normal life?
The truth is, we don’t know how long we might have to do this, and that is what is draining people. As I mentioned in my piece yesterday about my ferry ride, we are mentally- and emotionally-trained to think of life as short and that we should seize every moment, so the idea that we need to put it on hold – not for a war, but for a virus that 99 percent of people survive – seems counterintuitive. What if this lasts so long, we don’t make it to the other side? There are going to be people who won’t see relatives again or won’t see another summer or holiday, because they’ll be dead of non-pandemic issues before the pandemic is over. There are going to be events that bring joy to people that they’re being told “don’t worry you’ll get to do it when this is over,” and they will never get to do it. There will be weddings that will never be had and birthdays that will never be celebrated. There are people who will never see their parents again.
The story of the Canadian woman separated from her fiancee in the UK since March, having to postpone their wedding and then getting a cancer diagnosis keeps circling in my head. This situation is cruel and pretending its just a matter of discipline is ignoring the very real social, mental and emotional damage all this is all causing to people. I had someone who spent 18 months in prison tell me that this felt like being in prison all over again. In some ways it would be easier if it were a war, because there would be a actual battles and we’d know what specific metrics we would need to meet in order to end it (i.e. the defeat of the enemy), but instead we’re fighting an enemy who may never truly be “defeated.”
In an article early in the pandemic, journalist Helen Branswell interviewed experts who warned people that we were deluding everyone by saying it would just be weeks, it will be longer, and some aspects of “normal life” might have to wait until a vaccine – or longer. But nevertheless, we had a lot of people still holding on to the idea that it would be “weeks,” or at worst, “months.” We kept sharing models that showed the pandemic would be over by June, with just a few cases.
I don’t know what happens next year if we have treatments and a vaccine and are still being told we can’t go back to normal. I don’t know what those who think we should keep everything closed until then will say then. I really think it would erode trust in science even further. A hypothetical President Biden is going to have a real hard time with that and Democrats are going to be heavily pushed to begin a return to normalcy.
Progressives think simply paying people to stay home will keep them home. I think paying people a salary during lockdown was an important thing to do and it was a mistake that we didn’t do it, but that’s for economic reasons. It wouldn’t have guarantee people stay home. Missing from this discussion was how the countries that paid people to stay home also instituted authoritarian responses in order to force them home – martial law and tough restrictions. I guarantee everyone on Steinway Street Thursday night were getting paid. They weren’t out partying because they have no income. They were out partying because they did have money to spend and because they wanted to go out. I can’t imagine the “abolish police” crowd feel good about instituting the type of police state China, Italy, France, Spain, Peru or Vietnam instituted to crush the curve. You thought George Floyd was bad, wait until you see how the police enforce tough lockdown measures in communities of color.
The assumption is that if you pay people to stay home, restaurants and bars will close, but the same people arguing for this also claim restaurants will stay open for delivery and takeout, and believe nannies and other services should still be open.
So basically everyone but essential workers stay home, which is exactly what we had in the Spring, which didn’t help bring cases down anywhere except the hard-hit areas like New York City.
The problem is no one has given us a metric in which normalcy can return – a number of cases to shoot for, for example. Oh there’s been some; we’re told 5 percent positive test rates is good, but New York has been there for two months. City Councilman Mark Levine of Manhattan, chairman of the body’s Health Committee, said the city could handle contact tracing at under 500 new cases a day. It’s been there since mid-June. We were quick to make a point during lockdown that it “wasn’t until a vaccine,” so now since we can’t give them metrics to shoot for, everyone has decided to make that determination for themselves. People are social animals, and we kept New Yorkers home for months and asked them to sacrifice and they did. Now they’re told they have to keep doing it indefinitely. It feels like a bait and switch. People have moved on.
And across the rest of the country, they gave you their 2-4 weeks. They’re done.