As Things Are Opening Up, I’m Terrified To Stop Social Distancing

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“What are the odds you’ll get coronavirus?” “Come on, it’ll be fine.” “You can’t live in fear!” “80% of people have mild symptoms.” “It only kills old people and sick people.”

These are the words I’ve heard repeatedly from well-meaning family and friends.

I know they want to reassure me that I’m safe from Covid-19, but they’re actually making me more afraid. When the majority of a society lets down its guard, when so many people are willing to take the risk, and to be cavalier about social distancing, that’s when thousands of people will get sick and die.

That’s not me being alarmist. It’s simple common sense.

After two months of lockdown, my state began the first phase of reopening public spaces on May 18th. Now, a month later, I’m still choosing to stay safer at home, and likely will continue to do so until a cure and a vaccine are available.

It seems, though, that I’m in a minority.

I get it — staying at home all the time is frustrating, and boring. Human beings were made to move. We’re wired for connection, interaction, and exercise. Everyone needs stimulation, and I’m no different.

Believe me, I’m extremely disappointed that all my summer plans were canceled. I’ll be missing my grandmother’s 88th birthday.

A trip to see my brother in the Pacific Northwest won’t materialize for a long time. I’d been looking forward to seeing my husband’s family in southern California, to taking my daughter to Disneyland with her grandparents, but these things can’t happen this year.

The risk is simply too great.

Traveling isn’t my only fear. I won’t be going out in my own city either.

Restaurants and tourist spots are once again packed. Friends are going for mani-pedis and dressing up for girl’s nights without me.

It almost feels like everyone thinks the crisis is over and we can pick up where we left off last winter. Back then we thought the pandemic was a tragedy in a distant country, not something that could or would happen where we live.

But it did happen here.

In fact, South Florida, where I’ve made my home for over 20 years, is one of the country’s hardest hit areas.

Making matters worse, we have a huge population of vulnerable seniors. I don’t only want to protect myself. I want to make sure they’re safe too. I can’t stand the thought that someone’s grandpa could die because I wanted to dance to some live music and sip a frozen margarita.

I get the need to have a life, but I feel like everyone around me is so desperate to go back to their previous lives that they’ve adopted a kind of collective denial about how bad this thing can be.

I’m nervous for them.

Covid-19’s unpredictable nature terrifies me.

I know people who have had it and the disease manifests differently in everyone. We don’t yet know why some people experience no symptoms, others feel like they have a cold, some people suffer permanent, debilitating damage, and many others perish.

Doctors aren’t yet sure how to best treat the illness because it hasn’t been around long enough to study it.

For me, there are still too many unknowns.

One of those unknowns is how my immune system will react. Could I get lucky? Maybe. Could I end up dead? Also maybe, and so, as a responsible parent, how can I possibly put myself in situations out in public where I might contract the virus?

I cannot imagine leaving my daughter, an only child, motherless. Factor in the possibility that while most kids pull through the illness, others can experience a potentially fatal inflammatory syndrome. My daughter is too precious to take that chance.

Since March, I’ve left my home only a handful of times, when it was absolutely necessary, and what I saw added to my fear.

A lot of people wore masks and maintained a safe distance from one another, but even more refused. There isn’t a unanimous social contract about how we’ll act in public, so I can’t trust others to help me feel safer.

Some friends and loved ones in my extended family have expressed concern that I’m taking social distancing too far, and that I’m letting my fears control me.

Maybe they’re partly right.

I confess that when I watch movies I cringe at crowd scenes and close contact between characters. It’s odd how suddenly being close to other people, something I’ve taken completely for granted for my entire life, now seems precarious.

For years I’ve enjoyed long walks in my neighborhood, but now I painstakingly avoid passing my neighbors on the street, so I don’t walk through what I call “other people’s air.”

Everything feels fraught with new dangers.

I hate living this way. I miss concerts, festivals, and farmer’s markets. I want nothing more than to frolic in an amusement park alive with guests.

I’d do anything to go on a garden tour or to eat fish tacos at my favorite restaurant.

I’m sad about all the things that my daughter and I are missing out on this summer, but at the same time I understand the fundamental value of making a personal sacrifice for the greater good. I cannot pretend that a deadly virus doesn’t exist just because I don’t want it to.

In the meantime, I’m embracing the chance to stay home.

I’m leaning into the experience, viewing it as an occasion I can rise to by being creative and looking forward to a better future. I am optimistic that in spite of everything we’ll find a solution. But in the meantime am I still scared?

Extremely.

So until there’s a vaccine or a cure, I’ll be sticking around my house and we can hang out just fine on Facetime and Zoom.

I’ve been called crazy, over-protective, and neurotic for making this choice. So what?

I have far too much to lose. I’m doing my best to stay alive and healthy as long as I can, while protecting the most at-risk members of my community.

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