Rachel Miller is at VICE today getting an important thing out on the table: “The Answer To All Your “Social Distancing Loophole Questions is ‘No.‘”
“But what about my Really Good Reason that I Must go out/gather?” you may be asking.
Good news, it’s covered in the piece!
“Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There always are. But an inconvenience is not an exception. And my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.”
If you’re not safe at home, if you have an essential job and must leave, if you are needed by someone in an emergency capacity, if you are the designated grocery shopper/prescription picker-upper/errand runner in your family or friend group, if you have a medical appointment that has to be in person…then take care of yourself and your business. The dog needs to go to the bathroom several times a day, so, mask up and walk your dog. I believe you about what you need. But a personal exemption pass does not exist. The virus doesn’t grant them, nor does my inbox. If you need to go out then you need to go out. If you need a reality check, check in with a close friend or someone else you trust. You don’t need to tell me about it and ask for an internet permission slip.
Consider that people continually proposing and asking for exceptions in public, on social media – what friend-of-blog Jake refers to as “Edge-Case Bob” behaviors – are doing harm by giving cover to the folks who are looking for excuses. This is not a time for brainstorming all the ways that a rule might not apply to you, not really. It’s a time for brainstorming how to take care of yourself and your loved ones and your community within the rules, and making the necessary exceptions small and quiet.
I’ve been getting media requests since my Vox piece and since being a source for some L.A. Times pieces by the excellent Jessica Roy (“How To Help Your Marriage Survive Coronavirus,” and “Coronavirus Social Distancing Etiquette“) and a lot of them are about looking for loopholes or about talking to neighbors, family, community members who are Doing It Wrong. Here’s my blanket statement about that:
You can control you and people in your immediate household that you have responsibility for (i.e. parents are in charge of their own kids). You can wear a mask. You can limit your errands and be respectful to retail workers. You can stop hosting and attending gatherings.
You can often influence people you know well who will listen to you. (Revisit one strategy here). When someone invites you to a gathering? You can say “No, and also, wtf are you doing?” You can combat misinformation, spread good information, and do what you can.
You can ask strangers who are endangering you to take precautions. “Hey, my dog needs more time to finish her business, can you walk on the other side of the street and I’ll take this one.” “Can you back up at least six feet while we’re waiting in line?” If they won’t do the right thing, the one thing you can control is you, so if it comes down to it, then YOU move. You move to where you are safer, and let them do their thing.
If you didn’t know your neighbors before this, the place to start getting to know them is offering mutual aid & cooperation, not policing. The police are not The Manager.
“I’m going to the store, can I get you anything – I’ll leave it on your porch” is a start of a relationship with a neighbor. “I’m happy to get your mail when I get mine and leave it outside your door so you don’t have to take the stairs, will that work?” is a good favor to offer to a neighbor with mobility issues. “I have an extra mask that doesn’t fit me right, maybe it will fit you? I’ll leave it on your doorknob.” From there maybe you can have the “I’ll text you when I finish my laundry so we don’t both have to be in here at the same time” conversation or the “Wait, are you having people over? That’s really not safe!” conversation. If your Next Door and other neighborhood social media communities aren’t about “How do we help each other through this, what do you need and how can we get it to you?” then either turn them into that or delete them.
It was always violent and dangerous for white people to call the cops in non-white neighborhoods and communities. That danger multiplies when a) people are stressed the fuck out and b) when prisons and jails are a petri dish of Covid-19 cases. We need our neighbors OUT of the jails, don’t put more inside! Every time I say this somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they *had* to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob? If it’s not an immediate life-or-death emergency, and you feel weird having a potentially awkward or high-conflict conversation with a neighbor, one way you can make it 10,000 times less weird is to NOT add someone with a gun to the equation. People on my block had family gatherings Easter weekend and it sucked because I know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, but what I can control is staying in my own house so that’s what I did. If we didn’t know each other before this, me coming on like the voice of White Lady Manners Authority isn’t getting it done!
(While we’re here, if you are not in an actual prison right now, then your quarantine experience is literally nothing like prison. Find a different simile, say two Hail Marys and donate to your local community bond fund. Thank you.)
I’m the kind of asthmatic where a common cold can turn into bronchitis can turn into torn cartilage in my ribcage and tests for pneumonia because anything remotely respiratory likes to root deep into my lungs like kudzu and flourish there. I’m gonna be inside like a little cosmonaut until there is a vaccine & reliable treatment; my doctor said “think in terms of a year, though really it takes 18-24 months to get a vaccine out and the virus will mutate the whole time.” I am honestly terrified of getting sick – I know pretty definitively that it will not go well. I’m terrified of Mr. Awkward getting sick, or of us spreading it to each other. My continued life depends on the essential workers and the friends who brave outside to bring us supplies, and I’m cycling through all possible 197 stages of grief about the prospect of probably never moving through the world in an uncomplicated way again, contrasted with the guilt of being one of the people lucky enough that I can stay at home. I’m having “Ok so if I die, please_____” conversations that aren’t theoretical. So this isn’t one of those days where I can be “strong” or encouraging or lift people up, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what the new normal looks like. I literally can’t remember what “okay” feels like, will I even recognize it if it shows up again?
What I do know is that trying to hold onto the old normal for ourselves at the expense of others’ safety means a dangerous magical thinking. As Rachel Miller writes:
“Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.
And as a professional-etiquette-and behavior sort-of-person, I echo this part pretty strongly:
I hope that people’s questions about “good” behavior during this pandemic will soon begin to shift to ones rooted in the assumption that we’re committed to social distancing, public health, flattening the curve, and not getting others or ourselves sick. What should I do with all the beans I bought a month ago? What should I do about this crushing loneliness I feel when I can’t see people IRL? Should I flirt with the roommate I’ve developed a crush on? Should I cut my own bangs?
But if you know, deep down, that your question is just a fresh rephrasing of, “May I be granted one (1) exception to the CDC recommendations in order to be a little less uncomfortable because I think my needs are more important than others’?” The answer is no. Someday the answer will be yes. I’d say I can’t wait for that day, but I can, and I will—because it’s right and we must.
And that’s what it comes down to, in the end. I would trade so much suckitude if it meant that all of you could still here in the world with me when I finally can go back outside. And those are the stakes we’re playing for, we are fighting to keep precious, irreplaceable people and the people who love them in the world, we are fighting against the overwhelming and pervasive pressure to reclaim some past idea of normal in exchange for some “acceptable” number of deaths.
To that I say: Masks on, full hearts, might lose, fight anyway.