Summer in New England has been hot and disorienting. On the one hand, the pandemic has been raging everywhere except here. All of the coronavirus heat maps of the infection rate broken down by state depict the entire country as a sea of red except for New England, New York and New Jersey. In Massachusetts, the large number of health-care workers combined with a citizenry that trusts government health edicts has probably helped. After a very difficult spring, this part of the country has been able to enjoy the fruits of mask-wearing and social distancing.
What, exactly, are those fruits — and how long before they spoil? In my area, there have been efforts to revive some aspects of summer life. A nearby town has converted its main thoroughfare into a pedestrian walkway and encouraged local restaurants to provide outdoor seating. This makes a lot of sense, and yet it left me unmoved. When I was there on other business, there were plenty of people, mostly adhering to the necessary protocols. Just the sight of that many people that close together was unsettling after months of social distancing, however. I high-tailed it out of there, convinced that eating out would have to be a post-pandemic activity.
More recently, however, the fatalist in me has begun to think of this summer more like a temporary calm in a storm that will have a nasty second wind. Every effort to revive an aspect of our pre-covid lives seems guaranteed to be fleeting. Major League Baseball’s truncated regular season lasted less than a week before a major coronavirus outbreak felled the Miami Marlins. The White House’s protocols failed to prevent the national security adviser from contracting it.
Even in Massachusetts, where everyone has been good about masks, there are minor shifts in behavior that could augur a resurgence of covid-19. People are less vigilant about social distancing in grocery stores. The one time I went into a coffeehouse was disturbing. The store was understaffed, and as more and more people came in, the employees who were there focused on taking the orders before completing them. As time passed, more people were inside waiting for their coffee, and I desperately wanted to channel my inner Maggie Haberman:
I will not be revisiting that establishment for a while.
Epidemiologist Tara Smith captured the frustration of the current moment well in a recent column at Self:
We’re essentially going backward in many states, reversing much of the progress we made while most of the country was under some form of lockdown. This means that no matter how weary we are of the public health safety measures that make up our “new normal,” we have to stick with them for the sake of our own health, that of our loved ones, and that of our communities at large.Put it this way: You might be tired of living this way, but the virus doesn’t care.
What luck will I have to avoid it? Robert O’Brien apparently got it during a family vacation, something I plan on doing next month. Anticipating a surge when the weather cools down, I’ll probably risk getting a haircut soon while infection rates are still very low. I finally met a friend for lunch in an outdoor restaurant — an outing that proved to be more pleasant than I expected.
It is difficult to live right now without a combination of fatalism and numbness. I take some comfort in knowing that even pessimists are hopeful about vaccine development, that the current unpleasantness will end at some point in 2021. But that seems a long way away. And no matter what the president says, this pandemic will get worse again before it goes away.
I’m still alive, and I fully intend to survive this pandemic. With each day of social distancing, and each day of seeing the country fumble around for the right way to respond, a small part of me dies in shame and sorrow. I look forward to when this is a distant memory.