I’m very nervous about the reopening of the country. In New York, we’ve had a pretty severe shutdown, and we are moving through the stages of re-opening, tied to the lower numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19, but I’m still scared. I remember, not so long ago, when many governors were worrying out loud about the fact that there are no walls between states, and a high infection rate nearby, due to low-usage of masks, or a lack of social distancing, or just bad luck, could put us all under water again.
People are people, and they will get into a car, or get on a plane, and go to a business meeting, or visit family, or go on vacation. And, maybe someone will take their temperature somewhere along the way, but sick people can have normal temperatures, and maybe they will take the precaution to get tested, but a negative Covid test one day can become a positive test the next.
We know that wearing masks and social distancing can mitigate the spread, but in many parts of the country the wearing of masks has become a political issue, and in many places the fear of this disease has largely dissolved, and people are crowding into bars and restaurants without masks, or wearing masks as a fashion accessory rather than as protection, and removing them to drink and eat and talk with friends.
At the same time, the CDC keeps raising the estimates for how many people are going to die. The last I heard it was 140,000 people dead by July 4th, but that announcement came only a week after the previous estimate of 130,000 people dead by July 4th. It’s getting worse, not better.
My synagogue is planning to have High Holiday services online this fall, and we’re planning “just in case” for synagogue school to be online as well. But no one really knows what will be possible as the numbers of cases keep rising across the country. I’ve heard estimates that 200,000 people will have died in the United States, from Covid-19, by the end of the summer, or sooner. And the chances that those numbers are an undercount is very high.
The problem is, no one quite knows what the right balance should be, between being so careful and isolated that we lose our minds, and being so lax that the number of cases grow precipitously. A lot of people are desperate to get outside and to go back to feeling normal, no matter what the numbers may be.
I think I’m more frightened now than I was back in March, because in the beginning this seemed like it might go away in a few months. At the time, we were watching China re-open and South Korea re-open and assumed we could get there too. But now China is seeing new cases, and New Zealand, where the coronavirus had seemingly been eradicated, new cases appeared when they opened up to travel from other countries. I don’t think we will be able to shut down again, even if that’s the only tactic that would really work to contain the virus. But I don’t feel confident that I would survive Covid-19 if I got sick. More importantly, I don’t trust that my mother would survive this disease, and I know I wouldn’t survive without her.
My own risk benefit analysis has made it clear to me that I need to continue to shelter in place, despite the re-opening around me. I will continue to go to the supermarket and the drug store as infrequently as possible, wearing a mask and gloves, and I will continue to go to appointments by phone or Zoom, and cancel the ones that would have to be done in person. I will continue to walk the dogs in the backyard, keeping at least six feet of distance between me and my neighbors.
But I respect the people who are making risk benefit assessments that are different than mine. Other people have different situations, and different health issues, and may not live with older relatives. Other people may have no choice about whether or not to go out to work, or may need to get out for the sake of their mental health. I understand the risk benefit analysis that has led people to go out and march in protest, making sure to wear their masks and wash their hands, decreasing risk as much as possible while expressing outrage that can’t be expressed effectively any other way. I understand that people feel isolated and need to meet with friends, trying to keep some distance, in order to feel less alone. And I understand that mistakes will happen, and people can get tired and forget to wear their masks or lose track of how far away they are from a stranger on the sidewalk.
But, I don’t understand crowds of unmasked people filling the beaches on Memorial Day, or packing into bars like sardines. And I don’t understand having a rally indoors, where people will be standing close together and screaming for hours, in a city where rates of coronavirus are rising.
I don’t understand who can see estimates of 200,000 people dead by September and decide that that’s an acceptable loss. It’s not acceptable to me. It’s monstrous, and devastating. And I’m afraid.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?