Why The Coronavirus is Ravaging My State
A diary of what all of my family and friends have been doing in Texas.
All you have to do is scroll through my Instagram feed, and you’ll see for yourself. It’s no mystery what happened in Texas — what is still happening. The coronavirus is ravaging my state.
And I know why.
In brief, here’s a snapshot of what my extended family and friends have been doing since Memorial Day:
- traveling to the beach (multiple people, multiple different beaches)
- going to protests
- spending the night at extended family’s homes
- having extended family dinners (indoors and outdoors)
- visiting neighbors (with and without masks, sometimes social distancing, sometimes not)
- going to church
- going to spin classes
- going to work (law firms, medical offices, new construction, hospitals, and restaurants)
- going on road trips
- staying at Airbnbs
- getting haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and massages
- going to the gym
- going to waterparks
- shopping at the mall, the liquor store, the convenience store, the gas station, the grocery store, Home Depot, and Target
- shopping at car dealerships
- going to open houses for sale
- going to the lake (some with small family groups, others with large friend groups)
- having parties for Memorial Day, birthdays, anniversaries, and the 4th of July
- organizing play dates
- completing in-person sales on Craigslist
- playing on sports teams
- eating food prepared in commercial kitchens (restaurants, bars, take-out, to-go, drive-thru)
- walking around the neighborhood unmasked
- swimming in public pools
- using public restrooms
- packing the club
It seems like everyone in Texas is partying like it’s 1999.
Perhaps Texans take too literally the idea that we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Too many folks feel like they can do what the heck they want in the middle of a pandemic, without fear.
I’ve done a few things on this list. Some of my friends have done others. Some family members have done the few that remain. And I don’t intend to shame any particular person or group for any particular moment. But really what it all comes down to is math and science.
Virus transmission is a question of vectors and reproduction rates and exponential growth. Fewer opportunities for exposure is typically better.
And if everyone is doing a few of these things on the list and interacting with a few people doing a few other things, well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what is going to happen. Just turn on the news, and you’ll see the case counts skyrocket, along with hospitalization rates.
Maybe as our local businesses and governments “pause” our reopening processes, and as we institute continued prevention measures, we can think more selflessly about our individual contributions to efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in our communities.
The message of “bending the curve” was successful initially, but Texans (and many other folks in the United States) seemed to grow weary of the moral imperative to help the public health effort.
In fact, a hearty resistance to any measures intended to slow the virus has grown along with coronavirus death rates in our country. We’ve seen reports of people refusing to wear masks, spitting on others, and having COVID parties intended to spread the virus.
Our messaging instead should focus on the idea of “reducing exposure.” Unless people get tested before every interaction with another human (as the President insists anyone he comes into contact with must do), it is impossible to detect cases as they develop in real time.
Therefore, we are only playing catchup as people develop symptoms and seek testing. If we are not reducing our exposure to others, then the tracing and isolation that is required after exposure becomes unmanageable for public health organizations pretty quickly.
If we are asking our local businesses, our restaurants and services, to operate at 50% or 75%, shouldn’t we ask at least the same of ourselves? Can we commit to grocery shopping half as often as usual? Might we be able to interact with half of the family members or friends that we usually see? Can schools possibly have no more than half of their students on campus at any given time?
Essential workers don’t have a choice. Doctors and cashiers and cooks are going to work every day and interacting with countless people. For them, we should all be reducing the vectors — the interactions, the potential exposures — that are inessential in our communities.
I’ve said before that I don’t think we do a very good job in this country of understanding what essential means, and my critique still stands. It’s disheartening arguing with folks about whether or not they really needed the haircut or the weekend getaway or the queso, chips, and margaritas.
Freedom and all that. You know, ‘Merica.
However, despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m hanging on to a thread of hope. I believe that we’ll pull together for the good of our neighbors. We’ll get ourselves in right relationships with one another, and maybe even with the world.
In Texas, it seems that we’re really only at the beginning of our fight with the coronavirus. Here’s hoping that we can change our individual daily behaviors in order to make it out alive.