My staycation last week gave me an opportunity to see firsthand how we are doing on social distancing, good hygiene and mask wearing. As you might expect, and as you may have seen for yourselves, the practices are varied.
The few stores I went into—grocery store, big box store, a fast food restaurant—had practices in place for maintaining social distance. Employees were wearing masks, wiping down common areas and routing people in ways to help them remain separated.
I did, however, go to one sit-down restaurant where none of the service people were wearing masks and attention to sanitizing common areas seemed haphazard.
My wife and I also attended a small social gathering with friends—about 10 people—where we brought our own food, visited outside and generally maintained our distance. However, it is easy to let your guard down during such gatherings and I noticed after an hour some of the social distancing lagged.
The public’s adherence to good practices was mixed. Some are taking the advisories seriously, wearing masks and keeping their distance. I even saw a few people on recreational trails, where the spread threat is reduced, wearing masks. (I did not in those areas.)
However, it seems others have either given up on the masks, perhaps because there is not as much attention paid to the virus now, or they are simply ignoring the advisories. That makes me nervous for a lot of reasons.
First, as health officials have said over and over, the mask does not keep you from becoming infected, but it does reduce the spread of droplets that might reach someone else. Frankly, for mask-wearers, there is a tendency to conclude, “I’m doing my part; why aren’t you doing yours?”
Second, we are seeing a rise in cases in some parts of the country and hot spots are popping up. An analysis by the New York Times lists West Virginia as one of 22 states where the number of cases has been rising over the last two weeks.
Over the weekend WVU’s Athletic Department reported a second Mountaineer football student-athlete has tested positive for COVID-19 and will enter a self-isolation period for the next 14 days.
West Virginia colleges and universities are putting in place comprehensive best practices to prevent the spread of the virus, but anywhere people congregate in large numbers and in relatively close quarters is going to be a higher risk location.
I continue to hear from people who say the virus is not as bad as predicted, and it is undoubtedly true that the worst case scenarios were either wrong or mitigated by safety steps that were taken. But the fact remains that the virus is still present and spreading, and it will continue to spread until there is a vaccine.
Naturally, we want to return to life before the pandemic, but COVID-19 does not care about what we want; it is simply one strain of the coronavirus that has evolved over thousands (perhaps millions) of years, always fine tuning its ability to mutate and survive.
We must deal with the virus on its terms, not our own. For scientists and health professionals, that means finding the best treatments and searching for a vaccine. For the rest of us, it means continuing to practice some of the simple steps to reduce the spread.