As the country and the world begin to open up again, is there a chance that some of us will be so careless about continuing with precautions that the coronavirus will spread again? In this Boomer Opinion piece, after a simple hike near his home, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs fears the answer is yes.
I was just getting comfortable with the idea of social distancing, enforced not so much by restrictive regulations as by the force of “personal responsibility.” It is a precept promoted primarily by conservatives, but when life and death are on the line, everyone is bound to be as careful as they have to be if they don’t want to be the next victim of the coronavirus, right?
Then I took a hike.
It was on a trail through some open space near my home here in Colorado. And I’m not exaggerating when I say, the percentage of people on the trail with masks over their noses and mouths was in the single digits. The low single digits. And these were people who, by dint of the fact that they were out hiking, supposedly take their health seriously.
What’s worse, just a handful made any effort to pull off to one side of the trail to ensure that we had some space between us when I pulled off to the other. I could only wonder, have these people read anything at all about this pandemic, and the enigmatic and insidious ways in which the virus spreads from one human being to another?
Evidently not. I mean, if they couldn’t even be bothered to read the sign at the trailhead, which clearly states in its list of rules, “Wear a bandana or face mask; cover your nose and mouth at the trail head or when passing others on the trail,” I guess they couldn’t be bothered to read all the other warnings the rest of us have seen since this whole crisis started.
Extrapolate that throughout the nation and we’ll never come close to the general goal of high compliance with social distancing to keep the curve flat.
It did occur to me that virtually everyone I encountered was younger than I am— not such a high bar any more— and therefore, perhaps in their minds anyway, bulletproof. Which is more proof that everyone isn’t reading everything they can to know who’s safe and who’s not, because the answer is, no one’s patently safe, and everyone’s not. Statistics show that the young can be struck just as hard as the old, the fit might get just as sick as the unfit.
It’s an Odd Time in the World!
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So maybe, if the question is why these people were so careless about their own health and cavalier about mine, the answer is, they think the worst has passed and they can relax. Which brings to mind what a cardiologist once told me about some of his patients, who’d say that they had taken the heart medications he prescribed so religiously that they now felt good enough to stop. Or as another friend put it, “It’s like the guy who goes skydiving and says, ‘The parachute has slowed my rate of descent; I can take it off now and relax’.”
We can’t relax. Not yet, anyway. Whether walking on a trail or a sidewalk, a deserted campus or a public park, the virus is still spreading, and what we’ve learned so far is, we’re the only ones who can stop it. And even then, not right away. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Sunday, “Social distancing will be with us through the summer.”
Back in the car after the hike, I heard an interview on NPR with a legislator in Pennsylvania who was calling for lockdown restrictions to be lifted, saying with great confidence, “I have full faith in the personal responsibility of the people.”
Sorry, but after my hike, I don’t. And if people are going to act this way on one trail in Colorado, there’s no reason to think they won’t act the same way in every other setting in every other state in the union. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: citizens are free, sitting in the privacy of their homes if they like, to play Russian Roulette. But when they come out in public, they’re not free to force me to play their deadly game with them.