The coronavirus has altered life dramatically for all of us in a short time. In Illinois, as in many other states, we are required to wear masks in public indoor spaces — grocery shopping, purchasing from other stores, picking up food from a restaurant. Outside, we are asked to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. We are asked not to invite other people into our homes. Many public institutions and businesses remain closed or altered: only pick-up at most stores and restaurants; no in-person sporting events, performances, or church services. Many workplaces are closed and people who can must work remotely. As of 2 months ago, we were living what we thought was a “normal” life. Today, our lives are very different. 

Still, many of us are operating according to the letter, not the spirit, of these regulations. I see people gathering with others with whom they clearly don’t live, going on “social distancing walks” where they maintain 6 feet of distance — or maybe not quite 6 feet. I have been in my condo building’s laundry room and other residents have come in without masks. I have seen people inviting friends into their homes.

I’m sure there are a variety of explanations as to why people interpret the risks and the remedies differently in this moment. First, people might not understand the reasons for the regulations. When various levels of our government contradict one another and the science about this disease is so new, it is easy for all of us to be confused. Second, people might understand the reasons, but might think that those reasons don’t apply to them. Young adults and teenagers, especially, might think, “Most young people who contract the virus don’t get that sick. I’m not afraid.” Third, people might understand the reasons and the risks, but might be getting tired of all of it — people want to go back to “normal”. 

All of these ideas resonate with me. There are many, many moments when I am confused by conflicting news, or when I just want to go back to how life was before. But the fact is, we can’t go back. We must go forward, and the way forward will involve many new habits. This is especially true because we cannot get through this crisis by “toughing it out” or “buckling down”. Since we can carry the virus without showing symptoms for a long time, or maybe without ever showing significant symptoms, we must all act as if we are carriers. I might have COVID-19 right now. So might you. We just don’t know.  We must act like we have it and take action to protect those around us. 

I am by no means perfect. I don’t always wear a mask when I am out for a run. I have dallied in conversation with a neighbor and let myself get closer than the recommended distance. None of us is going to be perfect, and we don’t need to be. But we do need to adjust our expectations and live into this new way of being. It is not what we are used to, but it is what is necessary.

Wearing your mask is not an act of fear, it is an act of hope. It says, “I believe that I can take some action to protect your health, and I should.” It says, “I am willing to inconvenience myself to safeguard your life.” It says, “I believe that we can be better, and that we are better together.” Let’s all live into this new life together.

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