The sign on our door reads, “Please be aware: The residents are high risk. Please don a mask and use alcogel before knocking. Please maintain physical distance and do not enter unnecessarily.” I hate it.
It’s there because the cable repairman, pizza guy, and produce delivery all showed up without masks. It was joined by a mask and alcogel station, which we installed after a Bezek technician responded to our demand he wear a mask with a contraption whose earpieces were so stretched that it hung, uselessly, in front of his face.
My husband and I are in our 60s, and he’s got impaired lung function — we can’t risk getting sick. It’s not just older people who are concerned — yesterday the Israeli Health Ministry reported that 79 percent of the Israeli public wants stronger enforcement of COVID-19 regulations. They don’t want to get sick, and they don’t want to see the economy shut down again. Meta-studies show that asymptomatic people spread the virus, and masks significantly stop its spread. Yet, all it takes is a handful of unwitting super-spreaders who decide their comfort is more important than other people’s health to initiate the kind of exponential virus increase that seems to be happening again.
So why, then, are we letting this happen? Why is the latest fashion trend the chin-sling? Why did a public bus with unmasked passengers just go by? Why do I see photos of mask-less fast-food servers, shoppers, and shopkeepers? My children report that “no one follows social distancing at the supermarket,” and my daughter’s high school has “no alcogel or soap anywhere.” Why don’t more non-compliant businesses face closure? Why aren’t more recalcitrant individuals given tickets and fines?
Because we have to live our lives, many of us take calculated risks — to buy groceries, run to the dry cleaner, buy challah at the bakery, walk in the park, ride the bus, send kids to school. If everyone followed health guidelines, more people might be willing to shop at the mall, get a haircut, or eat in a restaurant. Those of us who have to be more careful haven’t yet chosen to resume most of these activities of daily living. Instead, we’re not just sheltering in place — we’re aging in place, acting as if we were dependent invalids instead of being the active, independent men and women we really are.
Today, life at the Zimmermans is not much different than it was when we were all under lockdown. Zoom continues to be our venue for work (thank G-d, we have jobs and can work from home), exercise classes, shiurim (Torah classes), and family celebrations. Our children, none of whom live in our city, neighbors, and delivery services supply most of our needs, and we only go out for errands we can’t or don’t want to delegate, like a trip to an ATM or a first morning appointment for a blood test. What has changed is that we host infrequent, outdoor visits from family and friends, who wear masks and sit four meters away from us, and we daven in our neighborhood synagogue because it strictly enforces masks, distance, hygiene, and number of attendees.
We didn’t expect life to return to normal by now — we knew that vacations, concerts, amusement parks, professional conferences, and large celebrations would have to wait, maybe until a vaccine is developed. But we thought that as the number of infected people continued to drop, we’d be able to shop for our own groceries, host Shabbat guests, hug a grandchild. Right now, those simple pleasures will remain beyond our frustrated reach as long as there are people and businesses who believe they’re exempt from the regulations that are intended to keep us all safer, and a government that does not enforce them.