Boomer Opinion: Don’t play Russian Roulette with my life

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?

Greg out on the trail near the Continental Divide in Colorado.

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.

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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.”

Dr. Deborah Birx

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.

7 Comments

  1. Here in our little corner of the world the beaches & marinas remain open to the public. The only thing the county asks is that people maintain social distancing. It was a gorgeous weekend, so our family headed for our sailboat. There were signs posted all over the marina warning that social distancing must be maintained. Most older folks and families with children appeared to be maintaining the prescribed social distancing. The twenty-somethings not at all. I actually saw more close social interaction on the boats & docks among that age group than I ever did before the virus. A 36′ power boat directly across from our boat was packed with more than a dozen college-age kids, drinking, partying, and frolicking in extremely close proximity of each other. Elsewhere in the marina, twenty-somethings were hanging in large groups along the docks, dancing, hugging, even making out. Face masks? Forget it, though they are not actually required in our county. All that is asked is social distancing. Really kids? Is social distancing just too much to ask?

  2. Thanks, Greg, for sharing the deadly paradox being played out in beautiful nature settings across the country.
    Here in New York City, spring is in full bloom, and the parks are packed depending on weather. Most people wear masks, although runners, bikers, and people chasing dogs and children, not always.
    And yes, some, mostly younger people, are the worst with “the rules apply to everybody but me” attitude. Maybe they think because they are doing something healthy, it doesn’t matter. But the lesson here isn’t about personal exercise regimes. It is about responsibility.
    Anyone watching the news will see the spread of selfish, disgraceful behavior emanating from the top, from the White House to meat packing slaughterhouses where folks are forced to work even if they are sick. When I read Sinclair Lewis in high school, I gradually became a vegetarian. This was quite a while ago. How about a national boycott, a Meat Down? If people can’t totally give up eating meat products, they can choose to eat and buy meat more judiciously.
    This is a time of great awakening or continued slumber. Everyone should carry their weight as an act of power and survival,
    personal and collective.

    1. Sheila you said exactly what I was thinking. Here is LA the older people are abiding by the rules and the younger ones are not. I do believe that since the president and vice president refuse to wear masks and play by the rules, there are millions of Americans who will not take this seriously .

  3. I am stunned. Let me clarify: I live in Italy and we’ve been in “lockdown” since 10 March – now heading for “phase 2” starting May 4th but with very little change (the only difference will be the ability to visit “relatives”, a word meant to cover family, partners and fiancés, as long as they live in the same region – no travel between the various Italian regions is allowed). No travel anywhere, no restaurants or pubs, no schools or universities, no sports, no concerts, no recreative activity of any sort! You can only go out for shopping or the pharmacy and at the supermarket, you need to take a number and stand in line to get in (if there are lots of people ahead of you, that can add up to an hour of waiting). Before getting in, they squirt disinfectant on your hands and then you put on plastic gloves – and of course the mask. Everyone walks around with a mask on.

    In short, lockdown is not voluntary, it is enforced by decree and the police will stop and fine you if they find you straying far from home for no reason. We all walk around with a so-called “self-certified certificate” stating where we live and why we are out (say, shopping or visiting a doctor ) for the police to see in case they stop you. And in spite of all this, the hospitals were overwhelmed in the worst hit region in Italy, the Po valley in Northern Italy – a highly industrialized region with very polluted air . That, as it turns out, is one of the main factors turning COVID-19 more deadly than it needs to be: the link between air pollution and the virus has now been confirmed by 3 independent scientific studies, including one by Harvard U.)

    So the situation is really very, very serious. I cannot imagine what will happen next in the U.S. Especially for people who live in highly polluted areas who already have weakened lungs – because, as we all know, alas, the virus kills the elderly and people with previous conditions more easily. So yes, young, healthy people living in clean, unpolluted environments (usually the case for the better-off middle classes) are probably OK. But the 40+ million Americans with little or no health insurance…What will happen to them? That’s a lot of people who risk getting sick!

  4. I don’t understand how people can act like this, I truly can’t. It is more than just ignorance and arrogance. It is such a juvenile challenging of fate and authority, that sadly puts us all at risk, not themselves.
    Once again timely and spot on.
    Thanks Greg!

  5. I’ve heard that some people, including evangelicals and Mike Pence, believe they are “above” wearing masks or protective gloves because “their God” will protect them. They never stop to think of harm to you or others they come in contact with, like on the hiking trail.

  6. I understand your disappointment with the other hikers. Our leadership in Washington are hikers too in that they are blazing a trail which to be honest I’m afraid to walk; our fearless leader tells us to use lysol spray and then says he was kidding. We need leaders in Washington to set a tone and start with setting the example for states to follow not the other way around. While we wait for testing our leader gets tested every week. What does that tell you about the value of his life vs the slowness in providing testing for us? The herd mentality in this case involves people hiking a trail right off the cliff and frankly I am not and never have been part of the herd; don’t they usually go to the slaughter. Keep wearing your bandanna and keep safe as wells make a fashion statement!!!

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