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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Forty-Three


The Surge


While New York's COVID positivity remains the third-lowest in the nation, we continue to see increases in both new positive cases and hospital admissions, demonstrating we are not immune to the surge we are seeing throughout the rest of the nation.


Governor Cuomo, November 10. 2020



The election is over, the virus is still here, I am still writing this blog book, no end in sight. So today, I return to the pandemic itself, the surge, the responsibility, or carelessness, or foolishness of people I hold near and dear, of the risks they take, and the risks I take to make life a bit more pleasant. And I am curious about the psychological mechanism that allows us, or tempts us, to take such risks and then to rationalize them away. One friend tells me she is being "very careful, very strict," and then admits she has traveled to see her grandchildren in another state and hugged them. But she's okay, she says, because she doesn't go into stores at all. Another friend has a dinner party on his deck, beautiful food, a forever gracious host, and drops his mask as he puts a plate in front of me, chatting all the while. Four colleagues meet in a restaurant in New York City where they sit in close quarters, masks off as they are eating, chatting away, and send a photo on text to commemorate the occasion. Another colleague reports that she has taken a vacation with her husband, driving all the way to the Canadian border, which is still closed. A friend in Virginia travels to see his girlfriend in New York and says, "I'm not worried at all, why should I quarantine?" And did you know, dear reader, that the enlightened practice of quarantine began in Venice in the 15th century, when ships were kept off-shore for 40 days –quaranta giorni—to try to control the spread of plague? Even then, so long ago, it was known that quarantine works.


Boredom makes us do crazy things. So does deprivation. But there is also defiance, there is also denial, there is also entitlement. A new neighbor meets me on the stairs and wants to chat. Sure, we are outdoors, but six feet quickly becomes four and then three. Humans draw close, we love and need the contact, the connection. "Happy to chat," I say, "but you'll have to be wearing a mask. If you don't have one, I have spares in my apartment." He looks at me oddly and quickly walks away. I can't tell you what his expression means exactly, because we have not, as yet, had a sustained conversation, but I read it as, "Who is this crazy woman telling me what to do?"  And when I remind a beloved cousin that she must stay masked when she talks to her children, even six feet apart and outside, she says, "Don't lecture me."


Dear Friends, please forgive me, but Governor Cuomo is my guru. If he says the positivity rate its going up, it is going up. If he says that we still must be cautious, we must still be cautious. If he says it is our civic duty to be cautious—as much as voting is a civic duty—that we must wear masks,  distance, wash our hands often, then we must wear masks, distance and wash our hands often. If he suggests that we do not travel out of state, and as little as possible within the state, there is a reason for this suggestion. It's based on science.

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