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Wishful thinking won’t get us out of this

Before wading into the murk of America’s bizarre tug of war with itself in the year of COVID-19, let’s first stipulate one thing: we’d all love for this to be over. Wearing masks, social distancing, arguing with people on social media over who and what to believe, some of us sweating out every decision on where we can go and who we can see and what we can do and not do any time we venture out of our little quarantine cocoons, others proceeding with their lives as if not one thing has changed. We’re just over it, OK?

We’d like to eat in restaurants and get back to the gym and go to ballgames and see movies in theaters and attend family reunions and hug our friends and an endless list of other things that we took for granted until our lives changed indefinitely back in March, which now feels like about five years ago.

More than anything, we are desperate for a return to normalcy. If we can’t have that, we at least want some clear answers. Instead, we live in a kaleidoscope, with the picture changing constantly, keeping us even more off balance and frustrated.

So, that tug of war? We have two things happening at the same time, forces pulling us in completely opposite directions. On one side, the sheer number of people getting infected with the virus continues to climb at a terrifying rate. In the first six days of July, there have been 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed according to The Washington Post. The death toll is now over 130,000 and climbing.

Our efforts to flatten the curve back in the early spring have largely failed, and our rush to re-open was not only premature, but disastrous. There have been so many new cases in Myrtle Beach, masks are now mandatory in restaurants, service and retail establishments.

On the other side of the rope, we are pulling toward the closest approximation to normalcy we can manage in these impossible circumstances. As we sit here sneaking up on mid-July, most schools are planning to re-open in about a month, as administrators and school officials scramble to provide the safest possible environment for students, faculty and staff. Gov. Roy Cooper is delaying an announcement on the opening of schools as long as possible, but he will have to make a call one way or the other very soon.

Many parents are counting on schools reopening, while others are apprehensive or unwilling to send their children back into an environment that may be dangerous regardless of whatever measures officials take to ensure proper distancing and the wearing of masks. All it takes is a single trip to Ingles or Lowes to understand how difficult it is to enforce safety measures when people either, A) still believe the virus is a hoax or a liberal conspiracy; or B) simply don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. 

Now, these are supposedly grown-ups. Do we believe their children will behave more responsibly in a school setting? Even if you believe the virus is real and agree that people should wear masks and practice social distancing, are you willing to bet your child’s life that he or she will wear a mask on the bus? Or in a circle of friends between classes?

Another example of this cultural tug of war is the attempt to get professional sports up and running again. There are currently plans for both the NBA and Major League Baseball to resume playing games later this month — albeit with no fans in the arenas and stadiums — but every day more players in both sports are testing positive for the virus, while others are simply opting out of playing in 2020, forfeiting their salaries to avoid the risk of returning to play too soon.

Once again, we pull in one direction, while the virus pulls in the other. I’m afraid that Covid-19 fatigue has pushed us past the point of reckless optimism and into the realm of magical thinking. Maybe if we act as if things are getting better and safer, things will indeed get better and safer. Even if all of the evidence points in the opposite direction.

A friend posed this question the other day on social media: “Why did 9/11 unite us while the COVID-19 is dividing us?”

 I think it is pretty clear that we were already divided. By now, it is obvious that a very large swath of the country is all in on the reign of President Trump, while those who are not continue to look on in utter disbelief.

Whatever your allegiance may be, there is no getting around his colossal failure of leadership on this issue in particular. Trump clearly frittered away precious weeks and months by downplaying the virus, deflecting blame for his bungled response after mocking reports of the virus’ seriousness early on.  Rather than uniting Americans by calling on us to be selfless, to be patient, and to be vigilant in following the advice of experts as we learned more about the virus, he deepened the divide and pushed for reopening the country long before it was safe. States like Florida that reopened too soon are now having to shut down again in the wake of soaring new confirmed cases.

Regardless of wherever and however blame should be assigned or how frustrating it is that we are several months into this pandemic with no end in sight, it is more important than ever to keep our wits about us and to exercise sound judgment in making decisions that affect public health.

Wishful thinking may seem harmless, but when it becomes the basis for public policy or personal behavior, it could literally be a matter of life or death.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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