Please, Don’t Go Out to Brunch Today
The coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-19, are spreading across the United States faster than we can track or test. This week the confirmed caseload jumped from 309 to at least 2,170 cases in 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A testing shortage has experts fearing the true number is likely thousands of cases higher.
Public life in America has methodically ground to a halt. This week companies instituted mandatory work from home policies, hundreds of schools and colleges closed or switched to online classes, professional sports suspended play indefinitely — even Disney shut down its parks worldwide.
And yet, many younger Americans seem unfazed by the pandemic. Though they may be working from home or practicing social distancing during the day, it appears American night life is continuing without much interruption.
In Seattle, where one hospital is reportedly preparing for Northern Italy levels of infection and already running low on some supplies, bars in the Capitol Hill neighborhood have been full of people. On Friday evening, a Twitter search for the phrase “the bars are packed” yielded hundreds of tweets from cities like Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles and New York City. On Saturday in Chicago, one reporter tweeted a photo of a line around the block for a St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl at 8 a.m.
While the federal government has issued some guidance for older and high-risk Americans, the administration has offered little definitive advice for how stringently low-risk people should isolate. And so it seems that for many it’s business as usual.
Continuing the weekend tradition of packing the bars is selfish and reckless during this pandemic. It will speed up the spread of the virus, increasing the suffering for older and more vulnerable people and for the medical workers who will be caring for them. Though the virus appears dramatically less fatal for those under 50, younger, healthier people can still contract the virus, not show symptoms and infect at-risk populations.
“Modeling suggests that the impact of distancing among low-risk people is more important to decrease transmission than its impact for high-risk people who move around less,” Sanjat Kanjilal, a lecturer in the Department of Population Medicine at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute wrote on Twitter Friday.
Benjamin Kerr, an evolutionary biologist, modeled how low-risk individuals are crucial to flattening the curve of the epidemic:
The idea is simple: If low-risk people don’t socially distance, then the entire containment process is not effective. Generally, there are fewer high-risk individuals — the sick and the elderly — and they don’t tend to move around as much as lower-risk individuals. Therefore, it’s more likely that a low-risk individual will expose a high-risk individual to the virus.
Wanting to socialize right now is understandable. People are stressed. It’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend. People (rightly) want to support local businesses. Younger people feel less vulnerable. But the consequences are dire. Just look at Italy — a country thought to be a week to 10 days ahead of the United States in its outbreak — where the health care system is collapsing under the strain of new cases. In The Boston Globe on Friday, the Italian journalist Mattia Ferraresi offered a chilling warning to U.S. readers not to follow Italy’s lead. “Many of us were too selfish to change our behavior,” he wrote. “Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying.”
If the same holds true in the United States, it could mean that this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day bar crawls are effectively petri dishes incubating the virus. Once it spreads without containment, untold numbers could be infected, with many not showing symptoms for days, if at all. And as these low-risk individuals move around — visiting families, friends and going to work — they threaten to expose others to a potentially life-threatening illness.
Social distancing is a responsibility. It’s not about panicking and quarantining to protect one’s self, but to protect others around you. You can still FaceTime or video chat with friends and family. Do a joint movie night. A virtual book club. Eat, drink and try to unwind.
And if you have the means, here are some ideas to help the businesses losing revenue under social distancing measures: Call or email your favorite bars, restaurants and businesses. If they have them, purchase a generous online gift card to front them money you will spend later. Or inquire about virtual tips you can send to service staff. But we should all recognize that even that kindness will be a drop in the bucket. We are facing a serious challenge and will need the government to take action to assist all of the people who will be left struggling.
For now, make the responsible choice and do not pack the bars and clubs this weekend. It’s proven effective in places like China, Singapore and South Korea, and it has saved lives. You can help, too.
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Mr. Ferraresi, who is living a week into a hellish future in Italy.
“We thought a few local lockdowns, canceling public gatherings, and warmly encouraging working from home would be enough stop the spread of the virus,” he wrote. “We now know that wasn’t nearly enough.”
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