Pandemic Phase 4-ish
“Ish” is such a non-committal word or syllable. Lots of wiggle room.
And while there are specific, official “recommendations” for business and school openings, there are only two real guidelines for us common folks: wear a mask and stay six feet away from everyone. In phase 1, in fact, we weren’t wearing masks, there weren’t any and if you had one, it was your patriotic duty to give it up to a healthcare worker on the front lines.
But in my phase four-ish, we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. Everyone is making up their own rules.
Phase 1 The Walking Dead
Everything and everybody are going to kill us. Sit on a bench, you’re dead. A bicyclist whizzes by you, you’re writing your will. You sneeze, you cough, it’s all over. I slept with a thermometer by my bed. Scary times. We’re hoarding Ivory soap and toilet paper as if not only was Covid going to kill you, but it’ll dump a ton of dung on you at the same time.
The truth is we had nothing much to do but worry, eat and watch. Watch case numbers go up and the stock market go down. We fell in love with Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Fauci. We found Trump and Pence creepier and we didn’t know they could get any lower.
Phase 2 Instacart
An app you never heard of a month ago became your lifeline. You didn’t care that your food budget tripled, or that your low-cal Swiss Miss Hot chocolate turned into a gallon of Cherry Garcia from Ben and Jerry’s. You were just grateful to put something in your mouth. That, of course, as you washed off every bag, cardboard box, and sprayed your footsteps from the pick-up spot to your counter. It was a tough time. You washed your hands so much (burning up the cases of soap in your pantry) before you touched, after you touched and in between stocking the shelves.
But in this phase, we were also settling into the new reality. Your next-door neighbor isn’t going to kill you; you can wave and say, “hi.” That bicyclist — let it ride. You’re wearing a mask (if you’re a Democrat.) You’re a Zoom pro and have a regular chat group, maybe two. You’ve developed the Covid zig zag walking style — a casual, but purposeful, way of strolling on the street exchanging pleasantries without getting too close. Not much more is open, but you’ve learned that essential services can indeed mean nail salons (in Georgia). The Covid numbers — cases, hospitalizations, deaths are frightening. But you’re hunkered down for the long haul, Lysol in hand.
Phase Three Big Ball of Confusion
Corona meet Civil Rights. A cop brutally murders a black man in Minnesota (Is anyone really going to take issue with me?). Armed government troops use teargas on protesters in D.C. so that the President can have a photo op with an upside down Bible at a church he’s never prayed at. All of a sudden, Covid is competing for airtime as the death toll reaches 100,000 people. We’re on “breaking news” overload. There is no American leadership. We’re fending for ourselves. Some of us are putting a toe in the protest pond while others are betwixt and between, worrying about the pandemic and concerned about the country and its people.
And while the news cycle reflects that struggle — and perhaps because Covid isn’t occupying so much air space — we begin the make-up-our-own-rules phase. We know the basics: wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet away, avoid crowds and particularly avoid them in indoor spaces. Everything else is up to us.
In this phase, the rest of America is starting to feel the ravages of this disease. Many “red” states became red on the Covid maps as their numbers of cases, hospitalizations, deaths began a rapid rise to the top (or bottom, depending on your point of view.)
People are beginning to venture out more, socializing, going to stores. The stock market is recovering a bit (though unemployment is still through the roof.) The metaphorical spring has arisen, lagging behind the calendar.
Bringing us to Phase 4-ish
The Republican governors of those high-case states are more or less capitulating to mask wearing and some still tout the silly notion that cases are rising because we’re doing more testing. The President’s tanking polls are scaring him into wearing and sort of endorsing masks. The rest of the country is opening up rapidly. Professional sports, accommodating for the virus, are in play; most businesses are open. There are a variety of rules on travel and virtual commuting.
And we humans are fending for ourselves, settled, but ornery, as we make up our own rules in a much more open playing field.
What I find, is with more and more behavior options, we are more and more judgmental.
You can have guests over if they wear their masks inside, but they don’t have to outside. We look down at those who violate the one-way aisle rules, but we can poke in and quickly grab a jar of honey for the barbecue.
There are some people who get their hair cut, won’t shop in stores, wash and wipe groceries, wear masks that don’t cover their noses, visit friends but won’t eat anything, and go to restaurants. Others eat what’s given, won’t get haircuts, do their own food shopping, will only use N95 masks and won’t visit a restaurant. You get the idea.
Everyone is picking and choosing what and what not to do since there are so many options and so little guidance. Our so called “pods” or “bubbles” are expanding. And those who don’t follow our particular rules are foolish. Even the unfortunate people who ultimately get Covid must have done something wrong.
We are all like mini-governments trying to strike a balance between the economy and health. In phase 4-ish, we are cognizant that we are taking on more risk for more of a normal lifestyle. And we think our choices are reasonable. But underneath there is still an queasy feeling.
We, for instance, chose to move to our new home during the pandemic and endured movers, cleaners and lots of people working on the house to get it ready.
It was simpler, albeit claustrophobic, back in phase one when nothing was open and we were virtually shut-ins.
In Connecticut, I find people taking more risks because they see low case numbers. To me, this doesn’t make sense as the numbers reported reflect infections that — more or less — are up to two weeks old or older, not what’s going on that day. In phase 4-ish, I opt for as much caution as I can, but I still shop at Adams for avocados and cilantro with great trepidation. I got a haircut — outside, in an alley.
My prediction is that phase five will be rough and tumble.
Schools will open in some form. The weather will chill and more people will be inside and restless. The elections will have a major impact on what we believe and what we don’t. Depending on which side you’re on politically will drive your behavior.
One thing is certain, however, the more this goes on, the more onus is put on us as individuals to make decisions we consider reasonable. Let’s hope we choose science as our guide.
Smiling Phases by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off by Harry Connick, Jr.