Friday, July 24, 2020

Discomfort During the Time of Covid-19

Melinda Palacio

After two weeks of being in New Orleans, I can say that lockdown during the pandemic here is not much different than lockdown in Santa Barbara or anywhere else. The isolation is real, especially if you want to be part of the solution and wear a mask and social distance. There’s the one issue of weather. Santa Barbara boasts near perfect weather all year. My friends think it’s absolutely insane that, given the choice, I come to Louisiana in the summer where the triple digit weather, along with the humidity, is unbearable to most people who didn’t grow up in the South. I would say I consider it a badge of honor that I can take the heat, but there’s more to the story. I’ve learned to adapt and in some cases, especially at night, I’m more comfortable in New Orleans because of air conditioning, the big game changer. I also wake up much earlier in New Orleans and go for a brisk walk at 6:30 am. In Santa Barbara, I’m usually still snoozing at that time, but if I don’t get out and get moving super early in New Orleans, I will miss the window of opportunity for outdoor exercise, and with the Rona out there, yoga and other group exercise classes have moved online. 
Sometimes, it seems as if all aspects of life have moved online and everything involving community is a zoom meeting. I don’t like it. I much prefer life in person. I didn’t realize how much of a people person I am until the choice to socialize in a close-knit way was taken away. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an extrovert. I do enjoy my alone time and feel fortunate that I am very comfortable by myself, writing, playing music, and doing all the things I did before alone at home was the only option. 
As much as I miss my friends and family, I feel as if a social change has occurred in me. I often feel uncomfortable around strangers because not everyone respects the idea of social distancing or wearing a  mask. While walking in the park, there are several people who seem clueless, as if they’ve lived in an alternative universe these past four months and brush by me too closely without a mask. I don’t want to feel anybody’s body heat on me or smell their shampoo, that's too close for comfort. 
        Earlier this week, I went to a coffee shop and was enjoying an outdoor table in a covered patio. For a moment, I was reminded of how much I enjoy something as simple as drinking coffee outdoors. The pleasant feeling soon ended when a pack of moms with strollers descended upon the place. They all huddled around a table for two people, spilling over into the space near the other socially distanced tables, none of the moms or kids wore masks and one of the children had a bad cough. The women soon lost control over the kids, some of which started to run around the other tables. It was a situation where kids were doing what kids do, socializing. They don’t know that they can’t run up to someone’s table and sit on a stranger’s lap. Something that under normal circumstances would be sweet and innocence is hard to control. This group of friends didn’t see any problem with breaking the current Covid rules. I started to have a panic attack, I didn’t know these ladies and I didn’t know their coughing kids. I left the coffee shop’s patio, so did a few other people. 
I suspect this is why we, as a country, can’t get a handle on the virus. It starts with something innocent like wanting to hug a friend or have a too close a conversation with your neighbor or mail carrier. How many times have I seen my neighbor in Santa Barbara get too close to the mailman, neither of whom are wearing a mask, and proceed to have a long conversation! The blatant ignoring of someone else’s comfort and safety zone happens both in New Orleans and Santa Barbara, and I imagine everywhere else. When individuals fancy themselves to be more entitled than everyone else, it creates a vicious cycle that fuels the pandemic. This virus is asking everyone to consider others and four months later, we are still having to beg for people to wear a mask and argue with people who think the small sacrifice is infringing on their well being, instead of helping everyone beat the virus. I realize that human interaction during a pandemic is desired and needed, but we can safely interact with friends and strangers by following the rules, wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing. 
         Stay safe, wash your hands, don't stand too close to people, wear a mask. 

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