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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.