‘We have met the enemy, and he is us’
Pogo said it about litterers in 1971, but the comic-strip possum might have been reading the minds of many Americans of today. As the nation starts to reopen, what really worries them, perhaps as much as the coronavirus itself, is the threat they feel from other people’s irresponsible behavior.
When The Times and Siena College surveyed people in the New York area about when they might feel comfortable attending live events like concerts, plays and ballgames again, a majority said that they would probably wait until 2021. The No. 1 reason for hesitating: They did not trust that everyone in the audience would obey the rules, wear masks and keep a safe distance away.
The holiday weekend provided plenty of fresh reason for feeling that way. Social media and TV reports showed people flocking heedlessly to beaches, parks and resorts around the country as if there were no such thing as a pandemic.
“This reckless behavior endangers countless people and risks setting us back substantially from the progress we have made in slowing the spread of Covid-19,” Dr. Sam Page, the St. Louis County executive, said in the statement.
Assault with infectious intent: By keeping people home, the pandemic has greatly reduced some kinds of crime, but it has given rise to an alarming new one: wielding the virus as a weapon. Police officers in Michigan reported being spit on by people claiming to have Covid-19 and at least one instance of a suspect’s licking a police-car window in hopes of spreading the virus.
Where American cases are on the rise
While the numbers of new cases and deaths reported each day in the United States as a whole are gradually declining, the trend is not the same everywhere. In about a dozen states, the figures are heading upward.
Many of those states began reopening their economies on the early side — in April or the beginning of May — and have seen new cases jump in the weeks since then. They include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Others, like Arkansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma, never issued statewide stay-at-home orders and have begun lifting the narrower restrictions they did impose.
The data may reflect greater testing capacity in some places — in other words, more detection rather than more infection. But they may also be signs of a “second wave” of new cases: Many experts have warned that relaxing social distancing measures too soon could allow the virus to bounce back and start spreading rapidly again.
Wuhan tries testing everybody
Many experts have talked about the need for widespread or even universal testing to truly get hold of the coronavirus, but few governments have attempted such a huge undertaking. One that did — the city of Wuhan, China, where the global outbreak began — offers some lessons.
The city spent months under one if the most draconian lockdown regimes anywhere, but several new cases emerged afterward. So officials decided to have every resident tested as quickly as possible. Thousands of workers were dispatched to make house calls, and messages urging people to be tested were blared over loudspeakers. In less than two weeks, the city has already screened 6.5 million people.
The city has found only about 200 new coronavirus cases so far, mostly in people with no symptoms — a confirmation of its success in taming its outbreak.
But some Chinese medical experts have disputed the need for Wuhan’s comprehensive approach, given that the city now has only a tiny handful of symptomatic cases. One virologist argued that a city of that size would need to test a sample of only about 100,000 people to accurately assess its outbreak.
Chopstick changes? The Chinese government has called for the use of serving utensils instead of personal chopsticks to share food. But many citizens have resisted, unwilling to abandon an important expression of communal culture.
“A number is an imperfect measure when applied to the human condition,” Dan Barry writes in an accompanying essay. “A number provides an answer to how many, but it can never convey the individual arcs of life, the 100,000 ways of greeting the morning and saying good night.”
Share safely. Give food to friends and family while reducing your risk of transmitting or getting the virus. Here’s one way: When delivering, wear a mask, place the food six feet from the door, and then back away so those inside can retrieve it.
Avoid burnout. Working from home can make it feel as though you’re always on the clock. Restore some balance by building some flexibility into your schedule, perhaps with a break to run errands or take a walk when work is slow.
What you’re doing
I am building a Corona Cairn in my front yard — one rock for each day in isolation. As I live near a beach, I bring rocks back on my daily walk. After an initial unsteady start, the cairn is now about 30 inches high and has about 70 rocks in it. I’ll continue building it until the pandemic is declared over.
— Ann Salpeter, Nanaimo, British Columbia
Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.