I need to stop and count the resources our household has for coping with the coronavirus crisis:
- Two grownups with secure jobs
- those jobs require a lot of meetings & phone calls etc. which keeps us socially stimulated & in frequent contact with people outside the house
- Some savings & other financial resources
- Supportive extended families who like to Facetime for long chats
- a happy marriage, & happy home life generally
- friends we can skype with
- no addictions or mental health problems
- everyone in excellent physical health
- a huge freshly-remodeled house with a yard
- lots of technology (TV, phones, computers); enough for everyone to use at the same time; knowledge of how to use it
- awesome neighborhood, good for walking & bike rides, close to parks etc.
- a dog and other pets (fish, lizard) to keep us focused on taking care of something besides ourselves
- we share work easily, i.e. housework etc.
- I have a lot of experience working at home so we knew to get into a strict schedule right away
- no one is an extreme extrovert (so no one is going nuts from lack of socialization)
- but also not extreme introverts (so not going nuts bc withdrawing into our cocoons)
- the kids are all school-age, but not yet pubescent. So no toddler drama or teenager drama, but they are all mature enough to handle themselves for an hour or two if necessary
- kids, for their occasional grumbling, are game about keeping up with schoolwork & activities
- (Three kids does feel like a handful sometimes but they each have two playmates)
So really we have probably the most possible resources to draw on right now! Probably the only people doing better than us have private islands.
So listen: if we are feeling frayed, how is this experience for a household that has…
- only one grownup
- lost all its income
- no experience with working at home
- no extended family or friends to emotionally fall back on
- limited technology or connectivity, or lacking the means to use it
- grownups who hate each other
- people with addictions and mental health problems
- more people than rooms
- no yard
- in a dangerous neighborhood, or deep in the exurbs away from amenities
- toddlers or teenagers or grown kids living at home
- just one kid who is going freaking nuts
Today the governor called off the rest of the school year for the state of Oregon. This is really not feeling like a fun staycation. For us. And we’re the lucky ones. How is it feeling for the unlucky ones?
If the screws keep tightening with no end in sight, people will begin to rebel. At best this will dull the effect of social distance on keeping the pandemic manageable. At worst it will damage the social fabric. Especially combined with a continued pause in economic activity. You can’t run an economy for very long on nothing but healthcare, grocery stores, and unemployment checks.
Besides the collective (mental) health toll of all this social separation, I worry about what this will do to public life, which was kind of on the ropes already.
I think there is a tacit assumption that at some point this will all be over but that doesn’t seem feasible. If we all just decided to reopen on Day X, that day will almost certainly be before the virus has completely passed through Oregon. And given how few people have acquired immunity, we don’t yet have herd immunity.
But we can’t keep everything closed up like this for another 6 months. Society will cease to meaningfully function before then.
At some point powerful people will need to consider how to reopen society. I think they should do it in stages, and start doing it soon. (Or at least make gestures toward doing it soon)
Maybe we should have day-on day-off public life. Like: schools are open 2 days a week for half the student body, and 2 days a week for the other half. But students have to sit 6 feet apart. Or like: if you last name starts with A–L you can go to a restaurant or library three days a week. Or like: if your license plate ends with an odd number, you can drive every other day.
Or maybe a strict law that everyone in public must be masked at all times.
Or maybe we should have a massive testing regime, coupled with some variety of “fever clinic” where known cases can be separated from everyone else.
Because if this household is fraying, others are doing a lot worse.