Abandon All Hope You That Enter Here…
I don’t normally do this sort of thing but after a year I have to get something off my chest. We travel. in fact it is what we have decided to do with our lives for over a couple of decades. For the past 13 months we’ve been grounded. Trips to India, Japan and Africa cancelled and we’ve just had a Europe river cruise in April cancelled. A six months ago just to go somewhere, we were planning a trip to New England but we put it on hold because of questions about some northern states policies about COVID-19, entering and quarantine.
Two months ago, not being able to take it any more, we headed out on a trip from our home in Central Florida to first drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. The plan was to do some hiking and sightseeing. While we mostly enjoyed the trip and we expected to have some issues, there were more than we counted on.
Our home state of Florida “opened up” long ago and greatly reduced the COVID-19 requirements and restrictions. Around our town people mostly wear masks because it demonstrates care and concern for each other. Nobody seems to freak out over someone not wearing one and just keeping your distance seems the proper response. Restaurants and bars are now open at full capacity and other businesses are beginning to seem much more “normal”. In Florida protection is now mostly an individual decision and responsibility.
As we began our trip North things started out as normal as we could expect but that began to change even before we left North Georgia. We were surprised with the the number of places offering take-out only food in North Georgia since Georgia was was supposed to be opening up much like Florida. The other problem we saw was more and more restaurants were completely closed.
I don’t want to focus on just the issue of food because there were more serious problems that we were beginning to notice. As we traveled North people started acting more afraid of each other. At times when people found themselves accidentally invading our space they were almost panic stricken in their apologies. It was also obvious that some people were working very hard at avoiding getting anywhere near other people. More and more we saw parents dressing down their children for getting too near others.
On more than one occasion, even hiking in the mountains was awkward. Walking a trail through an area of rock formations makes it difficult for people to pass each other in those tight spaces without getting close. With everybody wearing masks there were a number of times we could see real panic on peoples faces.
Twice when we checked into hotels we were required to read social distancing policies (one was 7 pages long) and had to sign the document agreeing to abide by the rules – both of us. I see lawyers and litigation fear in this more than public health. I was puzzled as to what would happen if by accident I walked into the ice room while someone else was there? A clear violation – would I have to leave the motel? I think businesses fear of litigation is becoming more dangerous than the virus.
The attitude of people towards each other was demonstrably different between Florida and places in North Carolina and Virginia. The fear was palpable at times. This is why I characterize it as a trip toward the heart of darkness. Throughout our history we have been a very social species that craves contact with other people. In recent times a number of people have noticed that we are increasingly becoming more introverted people and many blame the rise of social media and its purely artificial sense of social connections. After the COVID-19 pandemic will we recover socially or will we be even more isolated from each other?
My understanding of what we know about this pandemic suggests a number of things. First, this is not as deadly now as it was originally. Maybe because we are better at treating it and maybe because we are getting better at protecting the more susceptible. Second, for major segments of our population COVID-19 is not as serious as regular influenza. Major numbers of people caught it without even knowing it. Third, those most likely to become ill and die from COVID-19 are identifiable. If you are elderly or have serious medical problems you are at serious risk. What this means is over eighty percent of the population is at low risk of death or critical illness from COVID-19.
As part of that supposed “at-risk” minority I believe it is my individual responsibility to decide how much risk I am willing to accept? If I am fearful about my chances of contracting COVID-19 shouldn’t I be the one to act to protect myself and avoid social contact? Why should I ask my neighbors to injure their livelihood and damage their future prospects in an effort to protect me from becoming ill?
Both of us have now received our first dose of the vaccine which, we believed, would allow us to start traveling again, but that isn’t looking like the case. We thought it would allow us to go to Europe in April but beyond it getting cancelled we have friends in Europe that are still under lockdown and fear there is no end in sight.
I’m beginning to question the value of the vaccine if we still have to wear masks, can’t travel freely and are still supposed to avoid contact with our grandchildren.
To quote a famous Democrat leader “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” And therein lies much of the problem. There are those that really want us to remain afraid.