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Baby Steps – The Data

Saturday was a return to normalcy, of sorts. My grandnephew turned 10, which is a bit of big deal regardless of the circumstances of the moment during which it occurs; certainly so given this viral chaos. Of course, a party was out of the question. But one of his great joys in life is playing with his cousins, my grandsons, as is theirs with him. They manage to connect with each other on X-Box playing games where they can talk and laugh, but it’s just not the same as seeing each other in person. So, his parents came up with the idea of having them all meet up at the local high school to ride bikes.

Since the “lock down” order (for some, but not all….so sorry “essential workers”) came out, my grandkids lost their regular connection with us and most everyone else in their lives; instead of spending weekends here and coming over for pizza on Wednesday nights, they best we could do was video-chat on FaceTime. And while that was better than nothing, it still sucked. So after a while we graduated to going there, or them coming here, and “visiting” through the windows of the house of car. That then progressed over time to sitting together outside, with adequate spacing. All decided improvements but still woefully inadequate due to the complete lack of personal contact – no hugs and no kisses. But at least we were together in person.

Once we began getting together, I decided to impart some sense of routine back into their lives (and mine frankly) and suggested we ride our bikes up to the high school, to which they eagerly agreed. We went a couple of times and had a great time riding around the mostly empty campus. The only thing that would have made it better for them would have been to have their cousin there with them, like we used to do often last summer. So, when his parents came up with the idea of having the boys meet at the school to ride bikes, I was overjoyed.

They all live far enough away that they needed to drive there, but we are not even a quarter mile away, so the boys came here (one had a bike here already while the other brought his in the van) and then the three of us rode to the school while my wife and my daughter-in-law walked there with my granddaughter. As we got closer to the section of the campus where we always meet, I could see the birthday boy in the distance running and jumping with joy at seeing the silhouette of us on our bikes. His dad was there, as were his grandparents (my wife’s sister and her husband). The reunion was absolutely joyous; masks and respectful distancing notwithstanding. There was a momentary feeling of self-consciousness as we all wanted to “do the right thing” with protecting each other, but it quickly passed and the whole morning just silently morphed into one of family and happiness. At one point I ran home to get some drinks and chips for everyone and we all sat and just enjoyed being together.

Funny thing: after the initial awkwardness of the first hello with the masks and distancing, the boys mounted their bikes and began riding the paths, ultimately stopping at the top of the hill in a small open area where they just stood and talked. And they stood there and talked for an eternity, forgetting all about the virus and their upside-down world for at least those precious moments. As the morning moved long, the boys went back to play and rode bikes, played hide and seek, and just good ole’ boy fun. Pure magic – for everyone.

As do all good things, however, it came to an end and everyone headed back home, back to this world turned inside out. We came back home and had an outdoor lunch on the picnic table and basically hung out in the yard for a while. The kids still can’t enter the house and out of frustration, I ended up opening the front door, spinning the TV around, and having my 10-yo play X-Box while sitting outside on the front step. Extraordinarily odd!

But as will happen, someone needed to go to the bathroom. This wasn’t the first time this occurred during all this; they go into a little stand of pines that afford good privacy and they take care of business. But that is really upsetting to me and yesterday I just couldn’t take it so I suggested letting them into the house to use the bathroom and that I would sanitize everything once they were done. That being said, the 8-yo got to be the first into the house since all this began in mid-March. He went in, did his business, and went back outside. And I wiped everything down with a disinfectant afterwards.

I continue to focus on the facts as I know them in my life, my experience. I know no one personally who has tested positive and no one who has become ill from this. My daughter is a school psychologist and works from home but her boyfriend is in construction and is “essential” so is out in the world up to his elbows every day. My daughter-in-law has a home-based business in addition to the children so she is home all day but my son is “essential”; he is a marketing specialist for a large grocery store chain and has a large territory of responsibility in Massachusetts to cover. Of course, Massachusetts has been fairly hard hit with this virus and he has spent six days a week going to every one of his stores every day right in the thick of it. And thankfully, they are all still fine; no symptoms, no sickness. After three months of this virus, which the news media has touted as virulent and highly contagious, every one I know is still fine. Thank God.

As of today, we have just under 1.5-million positive cases in the US, this out of around 330-million people living here. That is 0.4% of the population. After three months, less than a half of one percent have tested positive. Yes, I know that testing was limited initially, and that only sick people were being tested. But that hasn’t been the case for well over a month or more. We have test sites sitting idle here; anyone who wants a test can get one. So 0.4% is not reflective of lack of testing; what it is reflective of is that the virus is not the monster of famine and death the news media has hyped it to be. It is deadly and it is contagious, but it is not the nightmare it was portrayed to be. The first advice was the best advice: wash your hands don’t touch your face, and keep some distance from each other.

I consider the tens of thousands of folks still out there working every day for the last three months, so many of whom are still not sick. I look at the packed parking lots of all the big box stores, many nearly at capacity, all day, every day, and think of the tens of thousands of customers passing through their portals. I consider the constant lines of cars literally wrapped around the Dunkin Donuts and the Starbucks and the Burger Kings and think of the thousands of customers they see every day. And then look and see that my town of 26,000 people has 177 positive cases – most of whom came from the nursing homes – and I have to believe that this virus is not what CNN makes it out to be.

Don’t get me wrong; in steeply congested places like major cities such as NY City where population densities reach more than 60,000 people per square mile – there is no way to stay safe in that environment; a virus like this is inescapable in that situation. Consider literally thousands of people in the same building in which you live; all sharing common hallways, elevators, etc.  – a definite recipe for a contagious illness to wreak havoc. But here? In my small town? Our population density is around 445 people per square mile making the virus far less impactful as in the major cities.

And as I look at all this, and ponder all this, I came to conclusion that the risk to my wife or myself by letting by grandkids use my bathroom is infinitesimally small and that is why I decided to let them into the house to use the bathroom. The odds that although not ill, and having parents who are not ill, after three months now, that they could still mange to leave a virus germ on a door handle, and that I might touch that handle and that the germ might stick to me and that I might them touch my eye or mouth were just too extreme to keep fearing it. And despite my 99.9% confidence that there was absolutely zero risk in allowing it, I still followed up with disinfecting all the touch surfaces. Overkill? Without a doubt. But that’s OK. We do what we need to do.

We all know a mask doesn’t protect us and if you don’t, I am telling you now and begging you to go research it. The masks we wear – homemade or otherwise – are only useful in helping minimize the spray droplets you emit when you cough or sneeze. They don’t protect you; they protect the other person. And “protect” only if you have the active virus in your system. Yet I wear one, as requested, every time I enter a store or place of business. Friday for example, I was in the liquor store, the drug store, and a restaurant for take-out and I wore a mask each time…a mask that did nothing to protect me. I didn’t wear gloves either, just made sure to wash my hands when I got home.

And therein is the paradox of all this – where is the line? This virus is not instant and certain death. But it is also not c conspiracy or “fake”. It is certainly real and it certainly kills – as do all viruses (recall 2018-2019 the type-A flu killed 80,000 Americans). The truth is somewhere in between. And sadly, the line to which I refer varies personally for each of us. They still don’t have anything more than minimal insight into this virus and much of it is their “best guess” at that moment. People inflicted with asthma were considered to be extremely high risk at the onset; now they have essentially dismissed that risk, as having asthma seemed to play no part in risk of catching the virus or dying from it in all the cases that they’ve studied.

Our world has been through a number of pandemics down through the years, including several in the last one hundred years. In fact, Woodstock was held right in the middle of a pandemic that killed over a million people worldwide and killed over 100,000 Americans; yet no lock downs, no economic collapse, and not even any school closings. Life just went on. This is the first time in our history that we have reacted as we have for this virus; right or wrong doesn’t matter right now, we are where we are and can’t go back. So how to move forward – that is the question.

And that answer is not pleasant, regardless if you pick door #1, door #2, or door #3. There is a messy ending behind all of them. This pandemic will not just end on its own; it won’t just disappear. It will likely get better, but it will likely also come back. They will develop a vaccine, but probably not for quite a while and it will surely not be 100% effective. We could all remain locked in our homes for the next year – at least those of us not deemed “essential” – but we’ve seen the repercussions of that in our economy and food chain in just the last couple of months.

People seem to have lost sight of the fact that the lock downs were imposed merely to slow the spread in order to keep the number of hospitalizations from overwhelming the healthcare system. And in a number of major cities, that almost happened. But in smaller less densely populated places such as my little state, that never came close to happening. And from the packed stores I see every day that’s not a result of people staying home. It is result of the reality of this virus and that it is not the “storm of the century” bearing death and destruction that the news media claimed and many of us feared. Deadly? Yes. Contagious? Yes. But not the end of the world. The millions of “essential” workers out there everyday for the last three months and the tens of thousands who pack into the box stores daily all bear proof of that.

So how does it end? Sadly, with more people getting ill and more people dying. That will be inevitable, I fear. And whenever and however that happens – whether the state rolling back on its restrictions such as Florida or Georgia or Wisconsin – or the president ordering it such as with the meat plants – or just citizens growing weary of the sheltering and recognizing that, while a potent virus, it is not the do all to end all, beginning to assimilate themselves back into life and into society – that the number of people becoming ill will rise once again. The goal is to take care of ourselves as well as each other; wash your hands, use sanitizer, keep a respectful distance, and wear a mask when close to the others in public.

Life will go on, differently at least at first or many, but it will go on. At some point, people will again eat in restaurants, will again tip a glass in bars, and will again watch an exciting movie in a theater. People will again travel, will again vacation, and will again gather in parties and cookouts. Fireworks, art festivals, and food festivals will come back and we will all go and enjoy. And another virus will be born somewhere in the world and will again threaten our well-being, or at least, our perception of well-being. Until then dear reader, make you personal choices based upon your reality, your needs, and your beliefs. And please stay safe.

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