As an early mover in reopening in the economy, I am blessed to live in Georgia. My favorite local restaurant started abnormal operations yesterday. In a soft opening broadcast to regular patrons, we all sat measured distances away from one another and shouted our conversations back and forth. Despite the weirdness of it all, a tape measure was actually used to assure appropriate distance, it felt good to break the doldrums of shelter at home orders.
If you ever watched the T.V. show ‘Cheers”, you have good idea of what this establishment is normally like. We have group rituals, nicknames and inside jokes. We celebrate birthdays and new babies. We attend each other’s weddings and funerals. College football season is a blast and you don’t have to clean up after watching a game with friends. And I never laugh as hard as I do during the Triple Crown races as we all pick a horse at random and end up rooting for the underdog anyway.
It is our community within the community. But last night people were missing, and their absence was felt. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing them for some time, and it is not because they are sick or gone. They are trying not to get sick because they are part of the at-risk population.
One is a 70-year-old in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Another is a diabetic in his early 60’s and his wife. A couple in their 70’s is a fixture in the place. And a man in his 80’s who comes in with his son toting portable oxygen. The highlight of his week is bringing a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups to his favorite bartender and enjoying a meal out. These are all active and engaging people who are part of my social fabric. And the fabric has a hole in it.
Then I think about my own parents. Despite a tentative reopening, they are maintaining their shelter at home life because of their age and preexisting medical conditions. We are told a vaccine is at least 18 months away if it ever materializes. And potential therapies such as a combination of hydroxychloroquine and other meds or experimental UV therapy fall victim to politicized coverage. Until any of these are a reality my social fabric, good friends and family, will not be intact.
Unless, there is sufficient exposure in the population to render herd immunity. A doctor in the Bronx wrote today that he feels his community may be getting close. A Swedish official said Stockholm is just weeks away. And several early assessments for antibodies, show the number of people who develop them without suffering from any notable symptoms may be much larger than previously thought.
I am ready to go the Swedish route. While we keep hearing you may get re-infected with COVID-19, it is not clear. It is also coming out of China, so I take it with a significant grain of salt. To date we have no reports of someone becoming infected a second time after recovering in the United States. And while it may be temporary, as active immunity to many common viruses is, your immune system has a memory and will fight off a known infection more efficiently a second time. That is the theory behind many vaccinations. It will also be telling when we see Sweden’s experience in the fall. If they avoid a significant second wave, it will be informative. The same for hard-hit portions of the greater New York area.
Older Americans who are otherwise active and vibrant deserve better than sitting in wait. I am very proud of my mother who does wonderful work with the needy through her church and attends book club meetings, attends monthly concerts at a local venue and many of Georgia’s outdoor festivals. My friends who are still sheltering in place alternately own small businesses, work part-time to stay active and actively engage in a range of hobbies.
So, I am ready to put on the bell and lead the herd. Right now, it the best shot we have to protect the vulnerable people in our lives. And allow them to live life to the fullest as fast as possible.
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