My walks have become daily exercises in self-control, lest I throttle somebody.
Strolling these days is like a cross between ballet and math. There are constant calculations as we do this slow dance around one another: Is there room on this sidewalk for both of us to keep a safe distance? How wide an arc shall I describe around that frenetic toddler? Shall I cross to the other side of the street to avoid this person, or will they? We both step off the curb, step back, chuckle, and go on our ways. We’re looking after each other, and ourselves. It’s nice.
Until they appear. The knuckleheads, galumphing all over our careful calibrations. I’d give them a good shake, if I were reckless enough to get near them.
They are generally teens, traveling in packs of five or seven or more, slow-rolling on bikes or boards, hanging off each other. Or eight of them are standing together at the top of a trail in the woods, yukking it up as, shoulder to shoulder, they watch their drone fly overhead. Or they’re at the playground, bumping up against each other under a hoop, competing for a ball, slathered in sweat.
Kids this age were supposed to be famous for living almost entirely online. Now they suddenly can’t resist being in each others’ actual presence?
Like those empty-headed kids on spring break ― the ones who defied warnings, crammed together on Florida beaches, then carried the coronavirus back to their communities — they act as if they were invincible, and everybody in their lives was, too. Of course, it didn’t help that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others refused to take the threat seriously.
Being the deeply flawed mother of an almost-teen myself, I am generally loath to criticize other people’s parenting. There’s only so much you can control when your kid is big enough to run her own social life. You can’t watch them every second. And plenty of teenagers are heeding the increasingly urgent pleas to stay home or keep a safe distance.
But now I’m 100 percent judging the rest of you. Keep your nondistancing kids inside, people!
Every day, this catastrophe brings new horrors. Thanks to the debacle that is our testing capacity, this country’s 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reflect some unknown fraction of the full picture. As the US death toll edges towards 4,500, the president who for weeks refused to see the calamity hurtling towards us, much less do much about it, is now priming us for the loss of 100,000 Americans, or possibly more than twice that. The disease is beginning to touch us all personally, whether we know it or not: According to the CDC, as many as one quarter of those carrying the coronavirus may not show symptoms.
And yet. There are still people who could stay home who simply refuse to. They’re going about their lives as if this thing has nothing to do with them now, and never will.
Some of it is just short-sightedness, and not just among younger people. But some of it is something more sinister, and more lasting. We no longer live in the world of New York Senator Patrick Moynahan, who said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” For weeks, the president and his acolytes have conjured their own facts on this pandemic, and millions of their devotees have believed them. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, they played down the dangers of coronavirus, called warnings a hoax, repeatedly claimed it was under control.
They turned social distancing into a political act, another front in the culture wars. A poll conducted in mid-March found that Republicans who had watched Fox News were less likely to practice distancing — even in Washington state, where the coronavirus hit first.
But people are dying even in communities that hang on the president’s every word, and it’s going to get undeniably worse. It’s too late to avoid a catastrophe, but we may yet save lives: Do the dance, make the calculations, steer clear.
And if you won’t do that, then for heaven’s sake — and everybody else’s — stay home.