Seagulls swarming

Fighting Over Scraps

Soon, many Americans will hit the one-year anniversary of spending time at home for work, school and what counts these days as play. Once the novelty and bizarro camaraderie of being home all the time wore off, lots of reasonable people were left with existential dread, illness and a whole lot of anger.

Anger at businesses reopening or building shelters around outdoor tables or not immediately disclosing COVID-positive employees. Anger at schools for staying online or for universities bringing students back to town. Anger at venues for hosting events. And so much anger about masks: wanting people to wear them, having to tell people to wear them, and that months into the pandemic people still needed to be told to wear them over their goddamn noses.

I’ve been angry, including a lot of anger about those who aren’t living up to my expectations of pandemic-safe behavior.

And I’ve heard from good, reasonable people who are angry that I’m angry. They are, after all, working to follow all the guidance they’re getting from public health officials.

How they hell are any of us to know what the hell we’re supposed to be doing or allowing or avoiding? None of us are epidemiologists.

Our governor and state legislators aren’t epidemiologists, either. Nor are our school board members, teachers or school superintendents. And, yet, two weeks from now, our schools will be required to offer five-day in-person classes because non-epidemiologist state politicians have the power to tell non-epidemiologist school boards and administrators that they have to, but they’re also doing it because non-epidemiologist parents are understandably angry that non-epidemiologist school boards and administrators are listening when actual epidemiologists tell them they don’t believe its safe.

This anger, my own included, has often been misdirected. From the very beginning, we’ve been left to be angry about what people are choosing from a menu of bad options: reopen a restaurant at the risk of staff and patrons or put the business and jobs at immediate risk? Try to hold events or tournaments with some risk mitigation or believe that folks are going to do some of this anyway but without any guidance? Get kids into the supported environment of schools at the risk of teacher’s health or force caregivers — disproportionately women — out of the workforce or try to work around school schedules?

All the choices suck. And it makes us angry.

And so we keep getting angry because we’re all worn out. We’re stuck fighting over scraps of normalcy.

Public health crises demand public policy solutions, and our we need real leadership from our federal and state leaders. Leadership means being willing to make hard choices and willing to tell hard truths. Instead, our leaders have continued to too often take the the side of ill-informed anger and frustration and entitlement, squandering so much time and money and trust.

So here we are, with 4,000 people dying every day from COVID-19, racing towards a death toll of 500,000. Angry that we only have bad choices, and fighting over the scraps.