As I planned for eleven days on the road during a pandemic, my biggest concern was how and when to engage safely with friends, family, and strangers. While I would be mostly self-contained in my van with my dog, there would be gas stations, a couple hotels, as well as a few (outdoor) restaurants to navigate.
With so many unknown factors to face, one thing was for certain: I would be wearing a mask. (You may recall months ago I was a bit of a fence-sitter on this – see this post for details!)
As the viral situation went, well, viral, and research brought forth increasing evidence explaining how we spread this illness, I wholeheartedly believed all sentient beings with the option would choose to protect themselves and others by covering their mouth and nose.
Oh, how naive I can be.
It’s baffling to me that mask-wearing is so controversial. In fact, sometimes it’s outright infuriating.
But after a conversation with a significantly more neutral colleague of mine, (her response to the masses of non-maskers: “Meh, people will eventually realize it’s important, or they won’t”), I had a bit of an epiphany.
Stick with me here.
In 2005, at 52 years old, my father announced he was quitting cigarettes due to irreversible damage to his lungs resulting in chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). I dealt with the difficult news of his illness by stepping outside to smoke.
It would be two more years, (which were spent in nursing school being educated on the intricate science of our human bodies) before I overcame my nicotine habit.
Another twelve years later, when my father passed away from complications of COPD, I once again found myself frantically inhaling a pack of camel lights.
This memory got me thinking: despite glaring evidence, the decisions we make are not always rational.
Mind blown, right?? (Pardon my sarcasm.)
But really, it took more than a minute for the world to view cigarettes as the vector of reprehensible and fatal substances that they are. Even longer for laws to be passed and the public to concede the dangers of second-hand smoke.
We humans often act in ways that directly contradict our knowledge, despite the risk involved. As a culture, our understanding of and adherence to public health policy (some of which may seem obvious or even indisputable now), has formed over decades and continues to do so, one baby step at a time.
Seatbelts, which are now strictly enforced with steep fines, weren’t immediately popular or mandated in vehicles.
Alcohol – a lethal poison many Americans choose to drink – is regulated by the government to protect public safety, but it took a while (like 60 years!). And even so, our compliance with the laws is iffy. Drunk driving is widely agreed upon as a heinous crime, yet alcohol is readily served in restaurants where patrons heartily imbibe then nonchalantly drive away.
And then there’s the nearly universal risk-taking behavior which has historically generated controversy, political division, and religious debate.
Yes, even sex, a highly personal and private act, necessitates public education, information dissemination, and even a few laws to help us protect our selves and others.
Prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs, also called sexually transmitted diseases or STDs) was not always deemed appropriate for school curriculum or the public forum. (And of course, there are still plenty of opposers.) But ultimately the facts spoke for themselves and it reached priority status in the public education system.
Exposure to sex equals potential exposure to STIs. This is a risk many of us are willing to take in order to connect and be intimate with one another. To reduce that risk, we follow basic guidelines established by medical and social experts; we practice safe sex.
Which brings us full circle to the matter at hand, the rapidly evolving public health hazard and newest category of STI (according to me, anyway):
Novel Coronavirus 19,
Socially Transmitted Infection
Just like with sex, many of us engage in risk-taking behavior which could result in a COVID infection in order to connect and be intimate with one another.
Just like with sex, when we are unable to eliminate the risk altogether, we must be diligent to mitigate it.
Middle School Health class -AKA Sex Ed – taught me everything I needed to know to protect myself and my partner from STIs (which I have to admit I did not practice perfectly over the years. Hmmm. I should cut the non-maskers a bit of slack, I guess.)
I propose we apply these simple principles to COVID 19 and practice safe socialization.
Safe Socialization Guidelines:
- When considering engaging with another person, ask yourself first:
- Is it mutually beneficial?
- What consequences, if any, are involved?
- If tempted to remove my mask, or move closer than 6 feet, what body fluids are likely to be exchanged?
- Communicate clearly.
- Abstain if you’ve been exposed or exhibit any symptoms (and seek medical advice)
- Obtain consent before interaction –
- does this person/s want you this close?
- Wear protection
- Insist that anyone penetrating your personal six-foot bubble wear protection
- If the protection is damaged in any way, it is no longer effective. Throw out and start new. Consider plan B if the risk is high – i.e. self-quarantine and monitor symptoms.
- Perform meticulous hygiene before and after.
- And please, don’t forget, be patient and kind.
As I traveled to California and back, I was acutely aware of my compliance to safety practices and an interested observer of others. I witnessed everything from respectful kindness to reckless ignorance to boorish, abusive behavior.
I know for some, there’s a sense of being “controlled”. Encountering so many signs, rules, and restrictions in public areas, I try to understand this point of view; it’s just not my take on the situation.
As a guest of hotels, restaurants (and on very rare occasions, a public bathroom) while on the road trip, I felt protected and cared for, not disciplined or stripped of freedom.
I try to remember that we creatures can tend to be risk-taking, self-involved, and resistant to change and authority. It takes time to gather data, and even longer to adapt.
At one time, second-hand smoke was considered harmless, and smokers felt it was their personal freedom to circulate it at will. Sex Education is nearly universally applicable, yet many choose to ignore the advice and others continue to protest the public message.
Coronavirus as a public health hazard is in its earliest stages. It’s foolish for me to expect the world to suddenly embrace scrupulous sensibility because a new-ish, highly contagious, fatal for many, virus is on the loose. We’re likely years away from any majority agreement.
This not a political agenda for me. My sole interest is caring about ourselves and our fellow Earthlings enough to respect our shared breathing space, staying as healthy as possible, knowing this virus isn’t going to go away.
My wish is that as you socialize, venturing outside your homes, traveling near and far – (and honestly I hope you can and will because the isolation of the last few months has been relentless) – you’ll practice safe socialization and do your part to prevent this stubborn STI – this socially transmitted infection.
Cheers & Gratitude,
“The views expressed on this blog are not medical advice, the opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of my workplace.”