It’s Been Three Weeks Since I Looked at . . . Any Other Human

It feels like we’ve been under lockdown forever, but it’s only been three weeks and four days.  It’s astonishing how completely my world has transformed.

Let’s go back before the stay at home orders, before social distancing, and look at where we were just six weeks ago. We’d had the first American death, international travel restrictions had been expanded to include European countries, and we were seeing evidence that the virus was showing up in people with no international travel at all. American life, however, was largely unchanged.

I live in the Seattle area, so at this time all of the American cases were within roughly fifty miles of me. I was frightened by what I was seeing on the news, devouring every word from the White House and from Governor Inslee. My friends and I worried about sending our kids to school, but were still going about our daily routines. Over the next three weeks, nearby school districts shut down as students or staff were suspected to be positive. Tests were not available. There was no way to know if a teacher or friend or coworker had the virus. There was no way to know if you had the virus. If you got sick with a fever, your household was to stay home in voluntary isolation for fourteen days. Otherwise it was business as usual. Wash your hands. Sneeze into your arm. Hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes disappeared from the shelves. So, inexplicably, did toilet paper. But those who were not sick were told not to worry. If you’re not sick, you can continue with your routine.

But you know all of this. We all know all of this.

Of course we know it, because it was LAST MONTH.

Even three and a half weeks ago, even in Seattle, we didn’t really GET IT. Late in the week, they announced that Friday would be our last day until further notice. We all still sent our kids to school. They had to pick up their stuff, right? Say goodbye to their friends? I picked my kids up among joyous declarations that we were Out Of School for a three weeks!  We dropped by a convenience store, at which point I told the kids that this would be our last trip to the 7-11 for a while.  I said that since they are going through the hardship of closing the schools, it is our job to follow the intent of the rules and stay away from other people for at least a couple of weeks. Already I’d had a couple of other parents contact me about playdates, and I was the weirdo who said no, who said we would not be engaging in social activities.

Let me state again: Three weeks ago, in the Seattle area which was the hot spot at the time, parents were planning PLAYDATES. And study groups. Getting together at parks and playgrounds. Just three weeks ago.

I was not much better. It sounds like I had a good handle on things, right? I rejected offers of socialization. But still I didn’t GET IT. The day after the school closed, I took my kids to get their hair cut. It was an appointment I’d set up days before, and didn’t want to cancel. It’s a small shop. I’m supporting local business. It’s not social.

Over the next week I also kept my appointment to get my car’s oil changed. I sat in a waiting room with six other people in close proximity. No masks. I had a tiny bottle of sanitizer in my pocket. It had been the only sanitizer left at the convenience store. I used the sanitizer constantly, kept my head down, tried not to interact, but I was still there. Also that week I went to the grocery store to stock up on what I thought would be two weeks of food. Spoiler alert: it did not last two weeks. I also kept my appointment with the tax guy, because IRS.

At the time it felt like I was being super cautious, hardly leaving my house at all.

Three weeks ago.

Now I look back at that in horror. How could I be so irresponsible? I now take all of my groceries by delivery. I have the delivery driver leave them on the doorstep. I bring everything in to a staging area where I wipe everything down as I put it away. The one time I left the house to get some items I’d pre-ordered, I wore a mask and a jacket which went in the wash the second I got home. We go outside to work in the yard, to walk the dog, etc. but instead of stopping to chat, we wave at other people from across the street.

Very quickly, the life I led last month feels alien and dangerous.

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