My day started, like a lot of them do lately, with an argument with my boyfriend. Fortunately, we don’t live together, because that would make my angry “Goodbye!” really awkward as I got up to move to the other end of the couch.
I wanted to talk to him about the different reactions I was seeing from people when they learned that someone where I work, a small-ish office building housing several lawyers, came down with COVID-19.
My co-worker, the infected attorney’s secretary, texted me the minute she found out. She lives with her partner and his 93-year-old mother. I see my own 91-year-old mother every day to shop and help her with daily tasks since she still lives independently in her own home.
This guy does not care about any of that. His wife began exhibiting COVID symptoms the Monday before Thanksgiving, but he didn’t say a word. Instead, he continued to come to work without a mask, and carry on as if nothing was wrong.
By the time he started experiencing symptoms himself on the Friday after Thanksgiving (or so he says) we had all been exposed.
To say that I’m irate is putting it mildly.
But there’s nothing I can do about it now, and we’re all essentially out of the quarantine period (or not, depending on which guidelines you’re following).
My boss, also an attorney and a cancer-survivor, immediately began a campaign to keep Mr. Superspreader out of the office. Like probably a lot of people, he felt pretty good — at first. He shoveled his driveway, probably toodled around town, and talked about coming back in.
Those plans have been put on hold, both because my boss talked him out of it, and because now, after a week, the COVID cough has set in and things aren’t looking quite as rosy.
My boss chooses to strictly follow the CDC guidelines for returning to work. I’m okay with that. I can retreat to my Fortress of Silence (an office with a door), emerging only to use the bathroom and forage for food like a wild animal. I try not to drink too much in order to avoid using the communal toilet, which is gross at the best of times.
What I’m not so okay with is the trip my boss took to North Carolina over the Thanksgiving holiday. He drove from Ohio to Asheville while the government was begging, begging people to stay home. By the looks of his credit card statement, his family of six (himself, his wife — who’s a physician’s assistant — and four teenage kids) had a good time. They went out to eat. They toured Biltmore. They stayed in an Airbnb.
He had no qualms about being out and about with hundreds of infectious strangers, and yet he was deeply concerned about being anywhere near that one person who he knew had tested positive.
And that, I think, is the key.
Because the virus is invisible, we feel safe. It’s an amorphous presence that may or may not be something to worry about, kind of like God.
To paraphrase Pascal’s wager, it’s better to suffer the small losses of a possibly mistaken belief in the coronavirus than to risk the potentially irrevokable and deadly consequences if it turns out that the virus is real.
It’s not until we catch it ourselves, or someone we actually know and/or interact with becomes ill that we feel afraid. Just look at all the Facebook posts from people who mocked the virus as a hoax, subsequently caught it, and are now preaching adherence to the guidelines.
My boss sees nothing wrong or contradictory about his actions. When I texted another lawyer friend and told him that the infected person wanted to come back to work immediately, my friend texted back, “No way! 14 days and a negative test!”
I didn’t bother pointing out to him that he’s leaving for Hawaii shortly before Christmas with his large family, and that the trip involves a lengthy flight with a layover at LAX. He will eat out, do touristy things, stay in a hotel, and generally YOLO amid hundreds if not thousands of people who are potentially infected.
But it’s that one person that he finds alarming.
I emailed back and forth with our paralegal, who works out of her home, about eating in restaurants, and she agreed that it’s a bad idea. I thought, “See? Another smart woman.”
And then she let drop that she’s leaving for Yosemite in a few weeks.
But back to that argument with my boyfriend. He started with his usual MAGA nonsense that “they keep flip-flopping on the guidelines.”
Not really. Everyone knew from the beginning that masks were protective. This isn’t our first pandemic. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough masks to go around, and they were needed by frontline workers. It was a policy decision that probably seemed wise at the time to a lot of people because of all the unknowns.
The CDC recently reduced the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days. Why? Because nobody’s going to quarantine for 14 days, so let’s try 10. It’s a nice round number. It has better optics. Maybe people will do that. It’s better than nothing.
Again, it’s a policy decision, but this time it’s not because of the unknowns, but because people don’t care even about the knowns.
I work with a lot of lawyers. That is to say, I work with a lot of people who feel “entitled.” Researchers have found that a sense of entitlement is instrumental to the spread of COVID because it leads to a disregard for safety measures, a belief that the threat is exaggerated, and a lack of concern about others.
“We found that psychological entitlement can also put people at risk of contracting a potentially serious illness. Thus, being entitled may pose a danger to people both psychologically and physically.” — Psychiatry Advisor
To put it bluntly, people don’t care about anybody else.
I used to think that it was just the people I knew, the lawyers and the rich folks, who were self-centered narcissists. But I’m starting to think that it’s pretty much everybody. When you live in a society that thrives on one-upping everybody else on Facebook and Instagram, everybody feels entitled.
Personally, I’m more than willing to put a vacation on hold in the middle of a plague. I’m more than willing to wear a mask and to suffer the small losses (I miss you, movie theater popcorn) when the reward is potentially staying alive.
I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect the elderly and other at-risk people and to get through all of this with as little loss of human life as possible. I realize that my actions have consequences for others.
But hey, that’s just me.