Are We There Yet?

I’ll preface this by noting my writing is simply me processing the pandemic happenings of this spring, and if you don’t feel inclined to read one more thing about COVID-19, I certainly don’t blame you. I feel the same myself. Keep calm and carry on – or go read something else.

I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad I am waking up to June 1, 2020 and not April 1, 2020. Edit: Given the happenings of the past week or so, I’m second guessing that statement. Maybe July 1 will feel a little more sane? But wait, it’s an election year…will 2020 ever end? What even just happened? I hope we don’t have to do another pandemic any time soon. As I crawl out of my quarantine fog (what day of the week is it?) and try, yet again, to locate my missing mask, I am, believe it – or more likely not, proud to be an American.

While the pandemic in the States began here with many questions – How dangerous would it be? How quickly would it, and does it continue to spread? How would our very scattered healthcare system handle it? Would NYC ever be the same again? (And this question, certainly, remains.) Would the government really mandate a six month summer vacation for K-12 students? What is distance learning, and will it survive? – there’s one thing that has certainly played out according to our usual American style: It didn’t take long for whatever science was available to rapidly disband and evolve into political arguments. To be fair, each state has handled this very differently, but speaking for my home state of Pennsylvania, this has been one political nightmare.

I was alright-ish with a lockdown, for a season, just to make sure we weren’t going to be the next Italy. It was weird. Austin and I feared the lockdown more than the virus. And I had to let go of that strongly American individualistic mindset and focus on what was happening in larger society, not just my own experience. That was hard, but I think, important. The ‘greater good’ can easily get lost in our focus on individual rights here in the States. I’m impressed by America, for (mostly) pulling off such an impossible, messy feat, and I hope we never do it again.

Even from day one, our own state’s lockdown was riddled with mass confusion and seemingly arbitrary definitions of ‘life sustaining’ business. Why was this open, and that closed? Or part of a sector closed? Waivers were introduced to help the state figure out who should be permitted to remain open. Masks were not recommended, then recommended, then mandated (PA), but wait, that was just a recommendation – not a mandate – or was it? But, masks are mandated, I mean, recommended, again? In grocery stores? Whenever you are out and about with people? In all businesses? From now until…the last case of the virus is squashed, or basically, forever…? Except for those individuals with underlying medical conditions, of course. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone knows anymore.

After our lockdown came our phased reopening, which, without boring you with the numbers, meant many counties might be locked down for weeks or months more, even though a large majority of the their COVID cases were centered in elderly care facilities, not the general population. Our healthcare system was working hard – well, hard on COVID, though the ERs remained mostly empty and all the standard sorts of preventative and elective care were on hold. This wasn’t fun and games for anyone, but there were enough ICU beds to go around. Nevertheless, businesses needed to stay closed, because, safety. Whatever the ‘greater good’ was, at this point it was clear many businesses and employees were paying dearly for this lockdown. The pros were rapidly being overrun by the cons.

Round about Mother’s Day, people started getting weary of it, so counties pleaded with the governor to open more quickly, and decided, without his approval, they would start opening up on their own. In our small city, we had the county commissioners voting 2-1 to open up the county (as testing capacity increased, in time our third commissioner joined the other two), our city mayor opposing the opening, fearing it was premature, the district attorney refusing to prosecute non-compliant businesses who opened ahead of the phased plan, the governor threatening counties who didn’t stay closed that he would deny them their promised federal aid money, and our president getting in on the mess via his usual Twitter style to encourage an open PA. Close, open, close, open. Who were we supposed to listen to? Suffice to say, the lockdown began dissolving as everyone decided to do what they wanted. Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer here in the States, was the unofficial end of the pandemic, whatever our governor said.

I am reminded of a statement attributed to one of our American presidents, James Buchanan: “I like the noise of democracy.

Here in America, we have a lot of opinions, and we aren’t afraid to voice them. Rather, we are encouraged to do so. We are taught from a young age that our voices matter. Our adversarial system of law displays this inclination well. This cultural tendency of ours can get irritating at times, especially to those accustomed to less individualist, more collectively-minded cultures. But this, my friends, is life in America. For as ridiculous as it can get, I am so thankful that we have what we have here – our voices. But when even our voices aren’t being heard, we have our feet. When things get hectic and our voted leaders are stuck battling in the bureaucracy machine about red phase/yellow phase virus reopening plans, we just vote with our feet, or in this case, our open business doors. And now, our riots.

Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash