When Can I See My Friends?

Grey’s Point R.V Park, Virginia

Entering the campground’s general store, I’m greeted with a socially-distanced line. We ask that you mask! a sign outside the store said, and yet none of the queued patrons paid it any mind.

Suddenly, a mom enters with her young son who she leads straight towards the ice cream, bypassing the line while breaking our six foot barrier. At least she’s wearing a mask, I thought, until I noticed that her son wasn’t.

Off the campground, not even the employees at the 7-11 were masked. My parents are having friends over, as are their friends. I see a few online carrying on as if a pandemic hasn’t killed 100,000 Americans.

My county has an F rating for social distancing.

I’m not going to live in fear, they say, as healthcare workers commit suicide.

Thankfully, Northam has now required masks to be worn in public.

– –

I haven’t been within a mile of my boyfriend in over two months. I had originally planned on seeing him soon after we went into Phase 1, but I decided against it. Legally, I’m allowed to, but the question has remained: should I?

The struggle is between epidemiologists, who aren’t economists, and economists, who aren’t epidemiologists. This leaves our elected officials to mediate between the two, interpreting both the cost to human life of life without quarantine, and the cost to the economy with quarantine.

On the national level, we have a president that has a history of not listening to experts at all, and instead politicizes basic public health procedures like the wearing of masks.

Yes, our original goal was to flatten the curve in Virginia, and largely we have accomplished that. However, if we don’t see a continual decline in daily cases (squashing the curve), and we relax our social distancing before we’re ready, we will see a resurgence of the virus and be right back where we started.

Virginia still has not met its testing benchmarks and does not have efficient contact tracing. Officials have said an app to assist in contact tracing should be available around mid-June.

– –

The main question now regarding reopening is whether or not we can afford to wait until we have robust contact tracing and testing to reopen the economy. I think we can.

To be blunt, if we were to remove all restrictions, an analysis from Northwestern reports that the loss of human life could cost the United States $8.5T, far outweighing the cost of current policies. Increasing welfare for the jobless fiscally makes more sense than forcing an end to lockdown.

Given that the economic argument for reopening America is flawed, it doesn’t surprise me that ‘Nearly Half Of The Twitter Accounts Discussing ‘Reopening America’ May Be Bots’ according to Carnegie Mellon.

– –

Where does that leave me? Well, I personally don’t feel comfortable expanding my quarantine bubble by one (my boyfriend) until we have robust contact tracing and or, crucially, we have clearly seen the impact of Phase 1.

I may consider distanced and masked meetups with a consistent set of two or three trusted friends in the near future, but only if the data appears cooperative.

The worst thing about a pandemic is that if you go out, you’re specifically risking the lives of the people closest to you (in addition to others).

It’s easy for me to think ‘oh, it won’t be my relatives to get sick, it will be someone else’s,’ but then I remind myself that someone else across the United States is thinking the same thing, ready to sacrifice my grandparent’s lives for a BBQ – a dilemma averted if we both stay home and respect each other’s humanity.

– –

How you interpret the data and make your social decisions, to an extent, is up to you as responsible decisions lie on a spectrum.

There are, however, wrong answers. Expanding your bubble by multiple people, or even just by one (hanging out not socially distanced) is the kind of behavior that, before robust contact tracing and testing, will send us back from Phase 1.

No, we don’t need to wait for a vaccine to see people again – but ideas like isolating all vulnerable people and returning to absolute normal right now also aren’t feasible.

Until we have a vaccine, there’s questions you need to ask yourself. Do I need to make this trip to the store, or can I do grocery pickup instead to reduce interaction? Even socially distanced and with masks, do I need to have five people with me, or am I happy with just two? When we get to the point of expanding bubbles (late June to July?), who is the safest person for me to include?

It’s these questions, and our answers to them, that decide whether or not we progress from Phase 1 into Phase 2, whether or not college students can go back in the fall, and if 120,000 people lose their lives instead of 400,000.

Vote Blue No Matter Who? Fuck You.

Look, I’m voting for Joe Biden in November, and I have a feeling that many other Sanders supporters are as well, but if Joe Biden loses in November it’s not the fault of those who didn’t vote for him.

It’s not the fault of sexual assault survivors who can’t stomach the idea of voting for someone who has been accused of sexual assault.

It’s not the fault of African-Americans who don’t trust a man that stood with segregationists in opposing ‘bussing,’ a primary tool for the integration of schools.

It’s not the fault of Latinos who believe they’ll find no respite with a President who not only was complicit in locking children in cages, but also lied about it.

It’s not the fault of LGBTQ+ folks who want nothing to do with a man who has repeatedly voted for policies that disenfranchised them.

And it’s certainly not the fault of any veterans or anyone from Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia that is horrified by the tens of thousands of bombs dropped in these countries during his tenure or the over one hundred thousand civilian casualties from the Iraq War, which he also supported.

Now, look, I can already here the screams of Biden supporters: Okay, Biden isn’t perfect, but Trump is so much worse!

You’re missing the point.

It’s the lesser of two evils battle. Again. The same one from four years ago, except now the Democratic candidate might die in office. Do you see the problem? The pattern?

Those ‘rebelling’ against Vote Blue No Matter Who likely do.

This isn’t about Joe Biden, or Donald Trump, it’s about the ‘establishment‘ and their continued manipulation of the electoral process.

In 2016, there was a coordinated effort against the Bernie Sanders campaign from within the DNC that resulted in a decisive advantage for Hillary Clinton. That isn’t democratic. It’s corrupt.

In 2020, absent Superdelegates, the corporate media worked tirelessly to paint Bernie Sanders in a negative light, with a study showing MSNBC disproportionately mentioned Biden 3x as often as Bernie, with significantly higher positive coverage of Biden relative to Bernie as well.

The rejection of Joe Biden is about rejecting the idea that Democrats should vote for whoever MSNBC and CNN decide is the best candidate.

The rejection of Joe Biden is a rejection of horse-race journalism, wherein candidates with heavy name recognition receive free advertising from the earliest parts of the primary process as reporting is done before a single debate is even held, creating a snowball effect where lesser-known progressive candidates like Yang don’t stand a chance.

Without horse-race journalism, news dominated by biased pundits, and DNC influence, we might have a Democratic candidate that everyone could get behind. They might not be a progressive, but Sanders supporters could still enthusiastically support a moderate that doesn’t have a history of sexual assault.

The rejection of Joe Biden is a rejection of this influence. Some will argue that the long-game doesn’t matter, that it’s important we have a Democrat in office now no matter who they are, but those who reject that idea don’t do so easily. They know there’s people likely to be deported. They know Roe v. Wade is under attack. Many are rejecting this influence because they’re the exact kind of person impacted by these policies, not because politics is a fun game for them and they’re trying to be edgy.

They know that if Joe Biden wins, the establishment is going to do this again. They know that eight years from now, we’re going to have an establishment candidate with a blackface scandal lose to Donald Trump Jr, and they’re going to be right back where they started.

You can disagree with their strategy, but if you’re blaming them for Biden’s loss, you should ask yourself why, out of all the moderate candidates, are we stuck with him in the first place.

Grasping for Normalcy

I wake in my dorm, not to the sounds of bathroom doors crashing as per usual, but rather to the soft sounds of birds chirping. It’s a welcome change – but in this moment change does not feel like a friend.

A check of my phone reveals not one, not five, but eleven news notifications relating to the ‘novel Coronavirus’, which itself is apparently another novel I haven’t read.

In my suite’s bathroom my eyes met with a suite-mate’s father’s, eyes that in and with the brief encounter spoke of the abnormality of the situation. If either of us were to look out the window in that moment, 11am on a Saturday, there would be hardly a soul to return our gazes.

I have my first of many appointments today with hand sanitizer.

– –

I’m writing this piece from a new cafe in Charlottesville, Glaze, that specializes in donuts and burgers. I came here to write an essay about the portrayal of homosexual characters in two Arab novels, however four espresso shots did little to shock me into the focus I’m used to controlling.

A large part of me feels careless for daring to go out, but I came anyway. Ironically, I came for a change of pace – but a change of pace that this time I control. In that way it’s a protest, an act of defiance, a statement that my life is still guided by me.

But it isn’t.

– –

I’m a foreign affairs major. I’ve been following politics ever since I could understand what was being said on Fox News from the living-room T.V. Yet, like many others I have a deep sense of exhaustion akin to a runner who doesn’t want to run the next lap of the race – except I’m running knowing that my race never ends.

For a brief period, it seemed as though my voice was being heard. Sanders was the democratic frontrunner, and projected to win the plurality of delegates amid a moderate split in the race. With Biden’s moderate challengers now out of the race, the only normalcy I receive is an absence of the one change I actually desired – and the one change the country arguably needs now more than ever.

I just want to scream.

I’ve felt politically powerless before, but I could tell myself that if I hunker down, focus on my academics and on my languages, I can have a bigger impact on key issues that I care about in my future career. I’m fortunate in that many of those issues were distant from me. I care deeply about the immigration crisis, but I am not an immigrant nor do I live on the southern border.

Yet this pandemic is as close, impactful, and universal as an issue can get, making it all the more maddening that all I can do, the best thing that I can do, is once again hunker down.

– –

Amid disappointments from democratic candidates, voters, and the current administration, I have found hope in the UVA community. Many understand the gravity of the situation, and many have filled my heart with offerings to the community of places to stay, food, and, yes, toilet paper.

Never has it been more apparent in my life that my decisions matter, especially locally. Doing my part in helping to contain this virus means that less people around me will suffer and die. Even if I can’t personally stop the international spread of the virus, I can do my part to stop my friends and family from getting the virus.

When this piece is done, I hope to return to Grounds, practicing social distancing and, for once, feel like I’m having some kind of impact.

For all of those like me who feel like they haven’t been able to change things around you, this is your chance. Do your part in your community, encourage others to do the same, and we can do what the folks in D.C can’t.

– –

Among the stark change, I try to hone in on the continuities.

Walking through Brown’s tunnels still produces a desire to pull every fire alarm on sight.

Lo-fi hip hop still fills my room, mixing with the cold air of the night and the aroma of my candle to put me at ease.

My Spanish journal still welcomes my joys, pains, and grammatical errors.

And I still have friends by my side (read: at least six feet away per CDC guidelines) to get through it all.