OPINION: Time to bring in the kindness

OPINION: Time to bring in the kindness

It’s good to live in a state like Connecticut, is what I’m thinking. Look at it this way: you could be in Oklahoma this weekend. Yikes.

It’s not that I wouldn’t go to a Trump rally. I would go to talk to people, see what they’re thinking about. Early on in the presidency of Donald Trump I tried to do that type of thing, talk to the president’s supporters, see what made them tick.

What made them tick in many cases was that they were ticked off. Drain the swamp and all that. It’s not that electing an outsider was a bad idea.

I struck up a conversation with a supporter at a watering hole not long after the 2016 election. Trump had raised eyebrows by having a phone conversation with the president of Taiwan, something considered a no-no because it would upset China. Who the hell were they to tell us what to do? — was pretty much the complaint of my companion.

I got the point, but that kind of bravado lost its luster. Now there’s a rally set for Tulsa in a state that has been seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. Why take such a risk?

It’s a bad idea because holding large gatherings in contained spaces where people are more than likely to be opening their mouths wide is a bad idea. That’s life in 2020. You’d like to be able to sing, chant and cheer, of course, but during a pandemic that’s how the virus spreads. That had caused worry about a rise of infections related to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Having to sign a waiver, saying you won’t sue if you get sick would seem a tip-off for a risky event, but on the other hand I’m supposed to sign a waiver before I can go back to my gym. Maybe we could all sign some generic waiver.

The virus arrived at a time when we were already having trouble talking to one another. Now there’s scant opportunity to talk face-to-face, to have even casual conversations without the cover of the mask. Facial expression, after all, often provides the opportunity to have more sympathy for the person you’re talking to. Now the task is to learn how to do that in different ways, and it’s not easy.

But what is definitely not a good idea is stumbling ahead as if the virus can be set aside. That’s why a phased reopening makes sense; it’s taking it step by step. If you find it’s a step too far you can take a step back.

It’s important to look at it that way. We’ve already had to be nimble. In the beginning of March we were told masks were not necessary or were just needed by those who already were infected. Those recommendations did not hold. It’s a new virus, and we’re learning about it as we fight it.

At least one recommendation that has held steady is that it’s not OK to hold large indoor gatherings. Just the other day, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm told NPR events like the one planned in Tulsa are “just simply the last thing you’d want to do.”

“It’s almost like putting potential gasoline on a fire,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that this should be a universal recommendation across the board that these kinds of events be avoided.”

Osterholm, founder and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, puts forth a worrisome scenario in which either a vaccine emerges or the population reaches a 60 percent to 70 percent infection rate and we “hopefully develop immunity.” To date, the infection rate is 5 to 7 percent of the American population.

Not encouraging. But one point he made was the distinction between physical distancing and social distancing. One we need to do, the other we should not. “If there was ever a time when we all need each other, it’s now,” he said. “We need to start an epidemic of kindness right now to take on this pandemic of this virus.”

Connecticut, with its careful approach, appears well suited to employ this kindness strategy. I suggest we commence immediately.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.



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