I remember the first time I was turned away from a store for not having a mask on. And the irony is not lost on me that mask laws have not been around for any significant amount of time.
It was the day after Governor Murphy officially enacted into law the requirement of face masks in places where social distancing measures were not possible, namely stores. I intended to make a CVS dash, but two employees turned me away at the door citing my lack of a face mask. Luckily, a nurse happened to be in the vicinity, overheard my plight, and offered me two of her own masks. Always and forever, thank you healthcare workers.
That same day, I bought a mask on Etsy.
Despite that small CVS hiccup, I remained fairly insulated from the Corona crisis. I tracked the news of course, watched the stats soar like some viral rollercoaster. But it felt like something altogether separate from my life, which had barely changed at all. I was a homebody to begin with, so the only major change for me was the void of no longer dining in at restaurants.
I continued to work, for my job was not only essential but also, as a medical and dental supplier, more necessary than ever. Work posed little risk of catching the virus, in any case. My husband and I worked in solitary on the the third floor; we had no contact with the law office on the first and the second disappeared altogether to work from home. Aside from the brief comings and goings of postal carriers—which slowed and then stopped altogether as carriers stopped entering buildings—we were alone and safe. And that was and is it: home, work, and home again, punctuated by endless UberEats orders.
But the world around me had changed both in ways I could and couldn’t see. My town was by no means as bustling as say, Manhattan, but even by township standards the roads emptied eerily. I remember walking Calliope on a brisk, sunny afternoon and looking around thinking to myself that something felt off. An almost palpable tension lingered in the air. Maybe it was the collective dread of an entire planet under siege.
Despite it all, I only ever experienced outright fear once in the months since the crisis started.
I had to make a Target run to pick up an order I’d placed online. The volume of people milling about seemed unsafe despite that they all wore face masks. Maybe the sea of masks added to that surreal, uneasy edge that had permeated the air since the pandemic reached U.S. shores. Between the unnerving face masks and most people’s infuriating inability to grasp the concept of six feet part, I arrived at customer service thoroughly frazzled. I’d grabbed a couple of extra things I needed on the way there and, to my dismay, couldn’t use my phone to pay. I scrutinized the credit card machine, wondering if COVID-ridden fingers might have touched it before me. Hands trembling, I pulled out my debit card and promptly dropped it on the floor. In the end, I made it out of the store in one piece, with my goods, and—as far as I know—Corona-free.
For a time, everyone complied with the lockdown. Non-essential businesses remained shuttered. Eateries served strictly on a pickup and delivery basis. Everyone who could worked from home. People followed CDC guidelines to slow the spread and flatten the curve. The economy took a hit of course, but I had always maintained that economies could be revived; dead people couldn’t be.
And then the protests started, spurred by delusions of tyranny and oppression. First in one state, and then another, and another, until they spread from coast to coast. And it just blew my mind, that level of selfishness and inconsideration. What kind of mental gymnastics did it take to make a global pandemic all about yourself?
On the one hand, I understood that these people were hurting in one way or another. Some feared they couldn’t keep up with their bills or provide for themselves and/or their families. Others yearned for friends and family members they hadn’t seen in weeks, months. And still others probably strived, by sheer force of will, to revive the world that existed before Corona—either unaware of or unwilling to accept the fact that that world was long dead and gone.
Whatever the rhyme, whatever the reason, the protests were at their heart selfish.
And I acknowledge that I hold a uniquely privileged position in this pandemic. I want for nothing: I am under no threat of housing, food, or job insecurity. If I fall ill, I can rest assured that my family’s medical connections will come through for me. I understand that not everyone has access to all or even any of these privileges. So maybe it seems arrogant of me to ask this of anyone, but I ask it anyway.
Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Wash and sanitize your hands. Stay home as much as you can. These measures are not difficult; they are not an infringement on your constitutional rights or your freedom. Especially as states begin to reopen, these tiny measures are our only personal line of defense against Coronavirus until such time as we achieve herd immunity or develop an effective vaccine.
Personally, I follow the guidelines for everyone’s sake. But if this crisis has shown me anything, it’s that expecting others to care for their fellow humans is folly. So if you can’t follow the guidelines for yourself, then follow them for someone you love. Do it for your children, your significant other, your parents, your grandparents, anyone that you hold near and dear. We don’t know where this virus is taking any of us. We don’t know if it will spike in a second surge or mutate into something deadlier. We don’t know what its lasting effects are on those who recover from it. Hell, we don’t even know how long it will stick around.
But as long as Corona looms, we need to look out for one another. Falling apart at the seams is not an option. We won’t all make it through to the other side; that much we know for sure. It doesn’t justify sacrificing human lives in the name of the economy or the government or our own creature comforts or whatever else.
We are all in this together. Maybe it’s time we start acting like it.