I worry that the opinion piece by Rob Williams, “Beyond COVID-19 phobia,” in last’s week’s Valley Reporter might have encouraged some to throw their masks in the air and say, “The hell with it.” It echoed the position of a movement of natural herd immunity devotees. That’s regrettable because, by default, the movement puts me on a list of individuals who may well become expendable. My ears perked up in March when Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, proposed this as a possible approach for his country to take. Let the virus take its course, he said. Of course, that was before he wound up in intensive care with COVID-19. England now has much the same approach that we do. A month later what rattled me was the sight of a protestor holding up a sign that read “Sacrifice the Weak – Reopen TN.” Ouch.
I’m in my 60s and, like many people my age, have a medical issue that puts me at higher risk for dying from COVID-19. In the event you endorse sacrificing those of us who don’t enjoy your same robust health, let me be clear: I, for one, am not ready to go quietly into that good night. Nor am I willing to commit to a lifetime of living in the shadows. Can’t you old people just stay home? No. Really can’t. If anything, my time out in the world is more precious than the younger folks’ because I have less of it to waste.
The article scoffed at social distancing because, “In fact, it slows down herd immunity, which moves us as a species toward viral immunity.” What is unsaid is that allowing this novel virus to run rampant will kill some of us and not just the elderly. I could tick off a list of young people in this Valley who have underlying medical conditions. The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics says, “As of yet, we are unsure of the nature of human immunity to the coronavirus. We don’t know yet if humans can achieve immunity to it.”
We are all suffering from quarantine fatigue. Who doesn’t want the freedom we usually enjoy during a glorious Vermont summer? Easy answers will not suffice in such a complex time. Citing information from March and April is irrelevant when ongoing research changes our knowledge of the disease daily. It’s true that in early March Dr. Fauci advised us not to worry about masks. He said so because the priority was health care workers who didn’t have enough protective equipment. Our government worried that masks would be hoarded. Remember at that same time a local nurse and mother of two young children advertised a drop-off site where we could deliver masks for use at Fletcher Allen Hospital?
What would “the herders” say to those heroes? Now that the crisis is winding down, are we to dismiss the danger that threatened our medical community? My youngest son left his radiology residency to volunteer on an all COVID-19 ward in NYC. They worked 12-hour shifts in double masks and gloves and wore face shields, sweating. They left their homes and families and stayed in staff housing.
Though Vermont didn’t have the numbers that NYC did, many reading this also witnessed suffering and death. Last week’s article implores us to “get back to being fully human.” Given the trauma medical staffs endured, I wonder when these brave souls will recover enough to be able to do that. An uptick or an intense surge (God help us all) caused by abandoning recommended practices may require essential workers to step forward again. In their place, would you do it knowing that some simply ignored the guidelines?
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Mehuron’s has a sign as you enter the store asking customers to wear a mask when they come inside. It’s very clear. All their employees wear one. It’s not easy to work their shifts trying to breathe through a barrier, but Drs. Fauci and Birx call for it. Governors Scott and Cuomo ask the same at this point in time. Many businesses in town have the simple rule as well. Is this what you are calling COVID-19 phobia? A phobia is extreme and irrational. What I see in this Valley is people trying to do the right thing.
Essential workers have put themselves in harm’s way while the rest of us were staying home. While the experts are calling for masks, put on a mask before walking inside a store. No one has an inalienable right to enter. You do so at the pleasure of the owners. If they say you can’t come in without a shirt and shoes you wear them. I’ve never heard anyone arguing about the freedom of those who choose to go barefoot.
We should assume that others want to socially distance until they tell you otherwise. I refuse to stay home all summer in fear – please distance yourself. It’d be helpful if parents could instruct their children that this is a new social convention. Unfortunately, children have a way of spreading things. Which brings me to the flu.
The point is often made that the flu kills Americans every year too. That’s fair, so let’s have a new rule. Since we don’t want to pile flu deaths on top of COVID-19, let’s all agree to stay home when we know we’re sick. If we absolutely must go out when ill, we can wear the mask we already have and keep our distance from others.
Nearly every day I have walked with a friend though we put at least 6 feet between us. Now that things are opening up, I enjoyed an alfresco meal at the Hyde Away, where they are doing a terrific job following the regulations. Small groups of my friends have met with our own lawn chair and drinks for at-least-6-feet-apart cocktails. Tomorrow we have reservations at Tucker Hill, where they have crafted a variety of outdoor seating areas according to the rules. Friends had to go out of state, so when they return, they’ll quarantine for 14 days. We’re all being careful. It’s really not that hard.
(By the way, if I’m going to bet my life on somebody’s understanding of our coronavirus situation, it’s going to a national treasure like Dr. Fauci. I’m putting my faith in the guy who has been the director of NIAID since 1984.)
Mehuron lives in Waitsfield, Vermont.