My wife B is going more crazy than I am during the Coronavirus pandemic. She has less tolerance for staying home and doing, essentially, nothing.
So B, who is more of a bleeding heart liberal than I am, is arguing in favor of reopening the economy. She says people should be able to go to the store if they wear masks, meet up with friends if they keep a six foot distance, attend concerts if they're held outdoors. She of course is worried about the virus. But she is also worried about the people who are losing their jobs or losing their businesses, who can't pay their rent and who may soon be out on the streets.
It's easy for us to stay at home, she says, because we still get our Social Security, our pension checks and annuities. But what about Manuel? He works for our landscaping company. He was "furloughed" back in March. The company sent out an email to customers inviting them to send a donation to Manuel -- but it doesn't sound like the landscaping company is paying him, or if it is, it's a fraction of his usual salary. We sent in $50; but no matter how many customers joined us, it's not going to last very long. Manuel has a wife and a child. How long before they have to give up their car? How long before they get evicted from their apartment?
Or what about the restaurants in town that employ waiters and cooks and dishwashers? These people are now on unemployment, with an extra boost from the federal government, but all that's going to end before long. And what about the people who own and run the restaurants and small shops? These shops often represent lots of dreams and years of hard work, and now a lot of that is going down the drain because the only thing they are allowed to provide is curbside pickup -- and business is down by 50% to 80%.
The reopen vs. stay-closed debate has been framed as a political argument. Republicans want to reopen . . . because they are greedy. Democrats want to stay closed . . . because they like the government to tell them what to do.
For example, in Why Are Liberals More Afraid of the Coronavirus Than Conservatives? Ezra Klein analyzes some of the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. He points out, quite correctly I think, that conservatives tend to be more skeptical of change and less welcoming to outsiders, while liberals are more comfortable with novelty, disruption and diversity. But by that reasoning conservatives should be more fearful of the Coronavirus than liberals. The author twists himself in knots trying to provide an explanation, but it doesn't make sense -- because the difference is due more to an individual's personal experience. Not everything is political.
I myself think we should continue to self-isolate . . . not because I'm liberal or conservative but because I'm a bit of a hypochondriac. B, who is more liberal than I am, wants to go out . . . because she's antsy and doesn't think it can happen to her.
It's not just us. Look at Sweden. If Sweden is as socialistic as it's supposed to be, why is it one of the few countries that didn't issue stay-at-home orders at all?
No, I think the question of reopening is more a function of personality, and personal circumstances. Some people simply have to stay busy. It drives them crazy to sit around at home all day. They can't do it! They have to get in the car, go to a store, meet up with a friend. Others can sit at home, read a book, watch TV, they are comfortable with their own company.
Also, B has never been sick a day in her life. She has no conception -- and thus very little fear -- of what's it's like to feel so horrible that you can't get out of bed, to be lying helpless in a hospital, to be unable to breathe and choking on some claustrophobic machine. I don't even think she's ever had an MRI.
People who want to reopen just think it won't happen to them. Perhaps they care more about the new unemployed. They also likely have more at stake in the economy. If you're over 65 and especially if you have an underlying medical condition you should be worried about Covid-19. But if you're in your 20s or 30s, and you're perfectly healthy, but you have car payments and a college loan and rent due at the end of the month, you might think it's worth the pretty minimal risk of disease in order to keep your family together. After all, they might reason, you're more likely to be injured in a traffic accident on the way to work than fall victim to Covid-19.
As the summer unfolds, no matter what our personal beliefs, we will all be going out more, seeing more people. So take a look at The Risks -- Know Them -- Avoid Them by Erin Bromage, biology professor at the University of Massachusetts. He has better advice than I could ever give about how to understand the virus, how it spreads, and how to protect ourselves as we do reopen.