I've been ignoring COVID posts and even coverage for a short while... largely because I just get so frustrated with all of it. But this, this right here, is what I've been effing talking about from the beginning. Yes, there was the inevitable politicization that came with a narcissistic and divisive president who actively works to turn every singe issue into a referendum on himself, and thus a partisan issue.
But there was also the inevitable faulty implementation of a policy and regulatory response (based largely on abstinence on certain behaviors) by public health administrators and public officials who ultimately see themselves as the arbiters of proper human behavior. And who see themselves as the ones who decide what is "essential" and what is not. And inevitable moralizing that came after it, tsk tsking people for doing the things that people want to do not just for economic reasons but because they are the things that define the effing human experience... like being around family for meaningful rituals the literally make up what culture +++++ing IS.
This is what is so frustrating, these two things going on at the same time. And they feed each other. And what do we get? We get all of our local playgrounds taped up and chained up again like crime scenes, when local playgrounds clearly are not the problem when it comes to spread and can be used safely with some basic guidelines, and state edicts telling me who I can or can't spend Christmas with while at the same time Walmart ad campaigns show us how they're "here for you" and Carl's Jr. breakfast is ready to go. This is off. Its all +++++ing off.
Some excerpts... but I recommend a full read. Not too long.
When a public-health approach isn’t producing the desired outcome, it’s time to try something different. Instead of yelling even louder about Christmas than about Thanksgiving, government officials, health professionals, and ordinary Americans alike might try this: Stop all the chastising. Remember that the public is fraying. And consider the possibility that when huge numbers of people indicate through their actions that seeing loved ones in person is nonnegotiable, they need practical ways to reduce risk that go beyond “Just say no.”
Anger at people who are flouting public-health guidelines is understandable, not least for exhausted health-care workers and those who are especially vulnerable to infection. But many long months into this pandemic, people are at their wits’ end: economically depleted, socially isolated, and disgruntled about—and in some cases genuinely baffled by—the arbitrariness of some of the restrictions on their daily lives. And if the HIV epidemic has revealed anything, it’s that shaming does little to deter risky behavior. Instead, it perpetuates stigma, which drives behavior underground and hinders prevention efforts. Americans have been told during this pandemic that taking any risks, no matter how carefully calculated, is a sign of bad character—so it’s no surprise when people are reluctant to notify others whom they may have exposed or engage with contact tracers.
As cases surged in the fall, elected officials blamed the trend on misbehavior at private social gatherings. Restaurants, stores, and other workplaces aren’t the problem, the talking point goes; people just need to behave better everywhere else—in parks, playgrounds, and their own homes. But the resulting message to the public has been nonsensical. Through their policies, states are telling Americans that dining indoors is safe in revenue-generating situations, such as at a restaurant or formally catered event, while private holiday dinners are roundly condemned. Some communities have gone as far as banning all social interactions between people from more than one household, including outdoors. In truth, states probably can’t afford to pay businesses to stay closed, yet governors are under tremendous pressure to act. The result is a web of illogical rules that transfer the responsibility for containing the pandemic—and the blame for failing to do so—from public authorities to the individual.
If elected officials are going to scold the public for their disobedience, the least they can do is practice what they preach. But one after another, they’ve been caught breaking their own rules. Governor Andrew Cuomo berated New Yorkers the week before Thanksgiving: “If you’re socially distant, and you wore a mask, and you were smart, none of this would be a problem—it’s all self-imposed.” Throwing in some fat-shaming for good measure, he added, “If you didn’t eat the cheesecake, you wouldn’t have a weight problem.” Just days later, Cuomo said his own Thanksgiving plans included getting together with his two daughters and his 89-year-old mother, plans he later canceled amid a public outcry. Maybe governors and mayors are just hypocrites, but the other possibility is that they’re human too, and that even people who understand the risks of family gatherings—and chide others for taking them—feel the powerful draw to this important part of life.
Very few people want to get infected or get others sick. When people take risks, it often reflects an unmet need: for a paycheck, for social connection, for accurate information about how to protect themselves. Acknowledging and meeting people’s needs will reduce risk behavior; finger-wagging won’t.
As the winter holidays approach and cases continue to surge across the country, people need clear and consistent messaging about the very high risks of travel and gathering. And, just like safer-sex education, guidance for this holiday season must also include nuanced information about how people can protect themselves if they travel to that Christmas dinner anyway: minimizing contacts and testing before and afterward, keeping gatherings small, driving instead of flying, masking when indoors or close to others, meeting outdoors if feasible, and increasing ventilation when outdoors isn’t an option. Giving any risk-mitigation advice might seem imprudent when the dangers of social contact are so acute, but adherence to public-health recommendations is never universal, and everyone needs access to information and tools to stay safer.
Rather than imposing rules that neglect the realities of human behavior and then reprimanding people for breaking them, the message could be a more pragmatic and compassionate one: We understand that this is hard and that social connection is important for health, so we will support you in gathering more safely.