Getting sophisticated about living with risk


Is there a five second rule for covid-19?

Remember the rule that said if you drop a piece of food on the floor you have five (or is it 10?) seconds to retrieve it before the cooties climb on board?

It was always a joke—but not only. It did feel–does feel–safer to eat the dropped item quickly than to leave it there for a half hour. The joking around was a way of coming to terms with the reality of germs, dirt, in the world we lived in.

We seem to have entered a new phase of reaction to the virus. The Covid death toll continues to mount in large parts of our country. And now that summer is here it seems likely that this virus will not be taking a summer vacation.

As we forge ahead p ursuing reopening, the prevailing attitude seems to have shifted to one of living with the virus, since it seems unlikely that we will outlast it. A bit of “let the chips fall where they may” is creeping in. As one mom of my acquaintance admitted, despite love of the family unit of five she’s been locked down with since March, “I’m so tired of this. The kids have to see other kids….somehow.”

If partly re-opened restaurants are not yet worth the risk for a lot of people, protesting police racism and violence is. The new attitude includes prioritizing risk.

For months it was the one-size-fits-all regimen : stay home, wear a mask for essential shopping, wash your hands. But now there is the phenomenon of merging “pods” . We are friends with two sets of grandparents who have formed a quarantine “bubble” with their children and grandchildren, as long as the latter agree to strictly shun the outside world.

We have not gone that far with our family. To a backyard cookout at their house we bring our own chairs and a little table, drink, snacks. We all agree to no hugs, which is quite painful, but we’ve started getting closer than six feet without masks . We have started receiving food and drink from the hands of our grandchildren despite knowing that they’ve had a bit of contact with other kids in town.

It feels riskier than before, and a little stressful, but we seem to be doing it.

A lot of people seem ready to begin easing back into accepting some amount of risk after the strictness of the past months—even if the virus numbers don’t seem, in many places, to justify it.

A good Hartford friend invites us to visit, saying that they have decided the distancing has gone on long enough, a direct challenge to our sense that it must go on perhaps indefinitely. “Really? But what’s changed?” I email back to him. He hasn’t replied yet.

Part of the new phase is getting more sophisticated and discriminating about the risk.

At first I was reluctant to pick up the newspaper in the driveway. When the paper printed a notice that according to the CDC picking up the paper was an unlikely way to get infected, it didn’t help much. “Unlikely? That’s the best you can do?” And went on being nervous.

We know now that the risk is not zero but much lower of catching the virus from surfaces than from hugging and kissing. Elaborate procedures for disinfecting your groceries are probably unnecessary. At least for those who don’t insist on zero tolerance.

Some (and not just uptight liberals) insist on the redundancy of mask and six feet, others not.

Is 20 seconds of handwashing really required, or will 15 seconds give you most of the protection, I dare to wonder.

We know, from reading, that this virus is really not like the old fashioned germs with little arms and legs that allow it to clamber up a dropped piece of steak. It doesn’t migrate, so if you touch a suspect doorknob with your finger tips on your way to washing your hands you can push a faucet with the palm of your hand. (Right?)

With these and other modifications to our virus-induced OCD we embark on the Summer of Living Dangerously here on Cape Cod.

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