COVID is not over, re-establish safety standards

The U.S. reacted slowly and poorly to the coronavirus pandemic. We had warnings from scientists and other countries being affected. We sat by and watched as China’s and Italy’s numbers climbed in February and early March. It wasn’t until March 13 that President Trump declared a national emergency. Even then, testing was extremely inaccessible and remained so for weeks to come. 

After a national emergency was declared, here’s what happened: long lines at the grocery store; no toilet paper left on the shelves; a massive hand sanitizer shortage; Americans finally learned how to wash their hands; schools and workplaces went remote; people hunkered down in their homes; states imposed lockdowns. This was the early stage of the coronavirus in the U.S.

But then in early May, certain states, including Wisconsin, started pushing to reopen. Wearing a mask became politicized. Lockdowns were lifted earlier than scientists said was safe. Summer rolled around and for many Americans –– this meant eating out, going to public places and having get-togethers with family and friends. COVID cases in countries that had been hit hard in February and March, such as China and Italy, had long been down, while ours remained increasing. The U.S. was unique, and not in a good way. We were leading the world in coronavirus cases, and had been since late March.

Now, seven months later, it seems the overall American mindset is that COVID-19 is behind us, or at least will be soon. Much of the fear that we had as a country in the beginning of the pandemic has since dissipated. Larry Kudlow, top economic advisor to President Trump, strategically implied at the RNC in August that the pandemic was a thing of the past, and that we had done everything we could to stop COVID. “It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus.” 

This mindset has threatened to wipe out safety precautions that stop the spread of the virus.

This mindset has threatened to wipe out safety precautions that stop the spread of the virus. Our standards have completely changed for what is considered safe. Statistics show that we aren’t in the clear. The nation hit its peak in mid-July, with around 75,000 new cases a day. It then dropped down to 25,000 new cases a day by early September, the lowest since mid-June. However, since early September, the numbers have started climbing upwards again. On October 6, there were 42,553 new cases in the U.S.

In essence, we failed to make sacrifices long enough for coronavirus cases to go down significantly. If everyone had worn masks from the start, and states remained shut down for longer, we probably would be in a very different situation right now. The University of Oxford’s Government Response Stringency Index scored each country based on their responses to the pandemic, including lockdowns, testing, border closing, etc. And according to STAT News, if the U.S. were to have followed the same actions as countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Australia and Germany, 7099% of COVID deaths could have been prevented. And perhaps the most frustrating part is that we’re still not making the sacrifices we need to be making in order for COVID to stop spreading so rapidly. It is apparent that many Americans have decided that they’re done with the virus. Unfortunately, the virus is not done with us. Sports and eating out are two spreaders of COVID that have become largely normalized in recent months.

When restaurants and bars started opening up in Wisconsin, safe practices –– such as spaced out seating and limited numbers of customers –– were stressed and carried out for the most part. Since then, however, the social norms for what is “safe” have become very relaxed. There are a lot of restaurants and bars in the Shorewood/Milwaukee area who claim to practice safe guidelines, but then have back-to-back seating, indoor seating, and don’t limit the number of customers. Considering the fact you can’t eat or drink with a mask on, all of this seems like grounds for COVID spreading. Some of you have probably driven past a restaurant in the past few weeks and actually forgotten that we were in the middle of a pandemic. And now that the seasons are changing and temperatures are going down, there will be even less outdoor seating.

Some of you have probably driven past a restaurant in the past few weeks and actually forgotten that we were in the middle of a pandemic.

Sports are also guilty of not practicing safe measures. On the outside, it probably seems like high school sports teams are being safe since all the photos posted on social media have team members wearing masks. But many of us have seen what really happens: teams take group photos of everyone wearing masks, and post it on social media to show that they are being safe. But then, a few seconds later, everyone takes off their masks to get a no-mask photo for the memories. During actual practice, masks are on and off and social distancing is questionable (it depends on the sport). Youth club sports, like soccer, are doing an even worse job. They don’t wear masks for games or for practice, and social distancing is completely out of the picture seeing as the entire point of the game is to chase the same ball. We’re not trying to advocate for the elimination of all sports, especially high school sports, but we do want teams to do a better job at abiding by safety protocols. Once you start seeing the same people with a lot of frequency, it’s easy to slip up and not think wearing a mask will make much of a difference anymore. But reminder: it only takes one team member to contract COVID once –– which could happen at any time –– for it to spread quickly throughout an entire team, and then their families, friends, coworkers, etc. 

Another way that our standards have changed is how many people we deem okay to hang out with in private. Social circles have expanded –– before it was a big deal if you hung out with one or two friends, and it was an even bigger deal if you weren’t wearing masks. Now people are hanging out in groups of five or more, unmasked. Sure, there are calculated risks, but spending time in big groups without masks is not a safe or smart decision. People are also getting way more comfortable going out in public, some even as far as going to populated places. Though they are wearing masks, there comes a point in which a mask loses a lot of its protective value. Wearing a mask isn’t going to fully protect you if you’re shoulder to shoulder with strangers in a crowd, or if you’re hanging out with a lot of people constantly.

The role social media has in the unwarranted reversion back to normal life is interesting as well. On Instagram, many Shorewood students post the importance of wearing masks on their stories– usually a cute graphic with some statistics. But then on Snapchat stories, both private and public, as well as on VSCO, these same students post photos and videos of hanging out in a big group of friends with no masks on, and sometimes even at parties. Sure, preaching the use of masks is better than actively advocating against using them, but if you yourself aren’t going to use a mask then it becomes contradictory and hypocritical. And if everyone is collectively agreeing that wearing masks is good, but then only a few people are actually wearing masks when they should be, the numbers aren’t going to go down.

If everyone is collectively agreeing that wearing masks is good, but then only a few people are actually wearing masks when they should be, the numbers aren’t going to go down.

It would have been ideal if the U.S. could have worn masks and made the necessary sacrifices from day one up until it was actually safe to start resuming everyday life again. Thousands of people would be alive today who aren’t, and way less people would have contracted the virus. But unfortunately, that is not how America reacted to COVID-19, and so now we are dealing with the repercussions. It’s understandable that people want to get back to how things used to be –– it’s been seven long months. However, we are not at that point yet. In the U.S., tens of thousands are still contracting COVID everyday and hundreds are dying. Even if Wisconsin doesn’t impose another lockdown, even if it’s not required legally, we still urge you to try to minimize the actions you take that could cause spreading of the virus. Even if that means making sacrifices, or making your life slightly less convenient because you have to wear a mask or social distance. We need to stop normalizing conditions that aren’t actually safe, and start raising our standards for what is.