Smile Politely

You can be supportive without jumping back in right now

With Memorial Day weekend behind us, summer is at our doorstep, and we’re all continuing to navigate this pandemic. Now that Illinois is entering Phase 3 of Governor Pritzker’s plan on May 29th, there are guidelines in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19 while providing much-needed relief to businesses that are suffering. These are positive steps as we all work together to recover as a community.

In an ideal world, everyone would follow these guidelines, and businesses that must reopen in some capacity will generate some much-needed revenue. A major focus has been restaurants and bars reopening patio service, but let’s not forget this includes a wide variety of businesses (i.e. salons, retail). If everyone who ventures out in public to visit an open establishment follows the guidelines, we can continue to flatten the curve while somewhat restarting our community’s economy.

However, the unfortunate truth is that many people are going to do what they want, when they want, and how they want, abandoning protective COVID-19 protocols. By now, we’ve all likely seen coverage of large gatherings all across the country from last weekend, clearly in violation of protective protocol. As that will undoubtedly continue to take place, those of us that continue to follow the guidelines will be affected as a result of the actions of others.

Even with a partial reopening, we all want to get out there, but should we? Is it worth it?

The treadmill of life is speeding up at a faster pace than our proverbial feet and legs can keep up. We’re all about reopening businesses provided they are following appropriate protocol. Plenty of them support us at Smile Politely, and their survival is paramount to the health of our community. Being a good community member means it is worth it to wear a mask in public to buy coffee, or grab a carryout order, to continue to be supportive of businesses. But this partial reopening is going to change everything.

This new phase begins as a result of losing steam psychologically and emotionally during the pandemic. One might believe it’s because the curve is flattening, though it’s not. We are clawing our way to simply resume “normal” life. Most of us know that it’s not 100% safe to reopen, even partially. However, unemployment is skyrocketing, and not just in Illinois, but across the country. Quarantine fatigue is real. States surrounding Illinois have reopened more rapidly by comparison — Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin have all relaxed restrictions — and many of us are likely feeling forced to take the plunge back into the world that’s not ready to have us just yet. 

So, as COVID-19 cases hover in the hundreds here in a community of roughly 200,000, and most of us want to help the business community through a partial reopening, what happens when people don’t follow the rules put in place to help the business community survive? Do we tumble back into Phase 2? All of this feels very confusing and difficult to sort out. 

How to best move forward is a challenge, but as The Atlantic points out while discussing quarantine burnout, what we need to do is learn how to live in a pandemic, which we’re trying to do right now:

But, as other epidemics have shown, trying to shame people into 100 percent risk reduction will be counterproductive. What Americans need now is a manual on how to have a life in a pandemic.

A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.

In the end, the risk remains since we are still in the pandemic. So, while this is somewhat rhetorical, the good news is you don’t have to do anything differently as certain businesses reopen. You can still be supportive of them. That’s the most important takeaway of the moment. It’s okay to feel resistant to going out to dine on the patio of your favorite restaurant. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable interacting with strangers in social settings. It’s not even June yet, in what has been forecasted to be a long next few months of continued spread. It’s okay to not feel ready — the virus is still out there taking lives.

While we certainly want to be participants, knowing that cases continue to climb in Illinois (especially in Champaign County), being fully engaged with the community as we did just a few months ago is going to take time. We’ve been pleased with Governor Pritzker’s policies, mostly because they seem to follow the science; keeping Illinoisians as safe as possible in the face of this pandemic has been the top priority. But as much as we’ve spoken about how to support businesses and how to be a good community member during this time, we’re not typically looking inward and assessing what’s at stake for individuals here.

A partial reopening of the state — even with the continued “enforcement” of social distancing, requiring face masks in public, limiting groups to no more than 10 people — will do some good in helping to curb the economic collapse that’s right in front of us. It’s also going to help some people feel more human, and that’s a big issue for basically all of us, finding something universal that we can all share. But the science says that it could result in more cases — and deaths — in Champaign County.

We need to be very cautious about how much interacting we are doing, and being even more cautious when we are doing it. We still have a choice, as a community, about what sort of behavior we wish to see from one another. We hope to see good choices.

Some of our lives depend on it.

The Editorial Board is Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Top image by Anna Longworth.

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