Late yesterday afternoon we returned from a four-week trip to and through the US. We didn’t get to all the places we wanted to get to and we didn’t see nearly all the people we wanted to see and that is partly due to the usual limit of time and money to get around to different states but also because of Covid-19. There were a couple of cases where we made an explicit decision not to go in order to protect those we were hoping to visit (they were at higher risk due to age, their health status, etc). We were a risk to friends and family because we had travelled internationally from a country with a very poor response to Covid.
What I want to do here is a sort of after-action-review (AAR) as a way to work through my thoughts on it but also to hopefully shape and influence others in how they think and process similar situations, especially with the holidays on the horizon.
There are two things I should lead with here that factored in to our approach:
I think that those two factors played a central role (but not the only role) in the fact that we did not contract the virus, despite a lot of risky behavior such as travel and extended-family gatherings with people we haven’t been in contact with at all since Covid kicked off.
I’ll also say that we didn’t go crazy with the precautions. We still had physical contact with loved ones. We still hugged. We still enjoyed meals together. We still shared intimate spaces like bathrooms, kitchens, etc. (i.e., wet spaces with lots of germs mixing and mingling and lingering). But we did have a few overarching rules we stuck to:
The mindset is important and it’s fundamentally an altruistic mindset. I personally think altruism is what is missing in a lot of the assumptions being made and the discussions being had regarding Covid-19 and the world’s response to it. There is too much focus on tribes and how that tribe responds compared to our tribe. That’s not constructive thinking—it is notably divisive and destructive. That way of thinking both assigns blame to someone else and abdicates personally responsibility at the same time. I’m not saying this isn’t a time to be selfish and think of one’s personal safety and I am definitely not proposing that our way of making sense of all of this is better (“our” = Marie’s and my way). But I am saying that anecdotally, it was successful (in avoiding Covid-19) and it was done in a context that prioritized the assumption that she and I could spread it to those we love—despite our personal risk-acceptance level.
If we are to change the shitshow dumpster fire that 2020 represents, I’d say that’s one big way to help! I dislike the notion that Group X is dumb because they think one way and they are putting us at risk through their stupidity. Did we see a lot of people during our travels not wearing masks in public? Absolutely. And we distanced ourselves from them physically. Problem solved (problem = our exposure to them). I don’t want to get too preachy-preachy here, so I’ll add a good quote that has helped me throughout the dumpster fire :
The mindset drives the actions and our specific actions followed a general pattern of what is already recommended by the experts: social distancing and wearing masks. We worked hard to gather outside as much as possible (again, germ theory—UV light and fresh air are generally good). Before we travelled we worked hard to clearly convey the risk that we represented to others through travel and contact with many different people from many different places. We let our hosts decide if they were comfortable with that risk and we accepted without question whatever precautions they wanted to take if they chose to see us and take that increased risk of exposure.
The bottom line is that everyone’s risk and their risk tolerance are different and unique. You are in control of your exposure level. If you choose to risk exposure, remember basic germ theory. Be mindful. The collective risk is that the sick will fill the ICU beds, impacting the healthcare system. Getting the disease shouldn’t be stigmitized but getting it as a result of careless behavior should. Don’t be that guy.