Everyone Is Mad At Farhad
Today’s main character on Twitter is Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist for the New York Times.
His article is about his decision to drive his family to his relatives’ house for Thanksgiving, a thing that has universally been decried for the potential to spread COVID-19. The piece is very strange, in that it describes in detail the amount of people that one family’s decision to travel can effect - and then comes to the decision that it’s actually fine to travel somewhat abruptly at the end:
So shame me if you must, but my wife and I decided that we would travel for Thanksgiving, though with a few added measures for safety. We’re pulling our kids out of the learning pod for a week before we leave. We’re driving to my parents’ house, not flying. We’re looking into getting tested before we go, and probably after we return. Other than the dozens in my bubble floating around us, our celebration will involve just seven people — fewer than the 10-person limit that many states have imposed on gatherings. And after the holiday, it would be wise for us to reconnect with other parents in the pod to ask whether their families might have been exposed during their time off.
This would be an opinion on Twitter that would get a lot of people pissed off, but would show empathy for the writer in question - he wants to see his family, which is important to him, and I get it, family is important. Hell, a lot of people would understand, and the assumption would be that he was a careful person.
The core problem is that Farhad is saying this in the newspaper of record. The action itself is irresponsible, and though it' will be “just seven people,” there’s no guarantee any of the other people are COVID-free without testing, and even then, who knows if they got the test and then didn’t immediately get it. But inspiring millions of people - people who read the Times and use it as a source of truth - to travel for Thanksgiving - is not simply irresponsible, it is literally lethal. To quote fellow New York Times Opinion Writer Charlie Warzel:
I am empathetic with anyone - and on some level I understand anyone - who wants to see their family. I very nearly had family visit for Thanksgiving, requiring tests, but as the date got closer it became apparent that I was very stupid for wanting this. I also - had the event gone ahead - would not have inspired millions of people in the newspaper to go to Thanksgiving at their families’ houses.
One of the many, many deeply frustrating things about COVID is the inconsistency of information, and the half-assed declarations from authorities around what you can and can’t and should and shouldn’t do. “Wear a mask!” has become a thing that people say to other people that also wear a mask, making everyone feel very smug as they still go out and have dinner outside.
A mask is not a magical shield (you should still wear it) against COVID, and neither is a sub-15 minute conversation with someone, and neither is a 6 foot distance from someone. These are guidelines invented to try and give people some context around acting safely with things they have to do.
Wearing a mask and staying six feet apart is a useful guideline to control the spread between people during activities that they are forced to do. Using it as an excuse to see friends, using it as an excuse to have dinner, using it as an excuse to do things you want to do versus things you have to do is irresponsible.
The only real way to stop COVID spreading is to stop spreading out human beings.
I should add this isn’t about people going to work. People are being forced to go to work because our social safety net does not exist, and thus people have to work so that they can afford to eat and live with a roof over their head. These are not the issue, even if they contribute to the spread - that spread is owned entirely by the governments incapable of providing them the means to stay home. Neither are the people who are getting groceries, or doing other things you have to do.
The problem is that people cannot fucking help themselves. I get that it’s boring to stay home. Outdoor transmission is “not as bad” but is still bad, and is still transmission. If it’s just you and your friends in the woods, fine, sure. If it’s a hike, and there’s nobody about, sure. There are very clear ways to do this right, if you absolutely must. I have a buddy who goes to an archery range and there are two other people and they’re 20 feet apart. Sure. Sounds great.
But if you are going to tut at Farhad’s piece - which you absolutely should do and I fully agree with you - review your own activities to make sure you’re not also contributing to the problem.
If you’ve had to say “well I wore a mask and I stayed socially distanced” to justify an action, you likely are.