At the beginning, it was said that since it was impossible to prevent all infections, we had to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus so that the caseload stretched out and hospitals would not be overwhelmed. Now that the curve has flattened, we hear in some quarters that the country should not go back to work until there are no cases at all, an absurd standard never before proposed for any disease, even smallpox, typhus, and polio.
This is partly a social class bias, since most of those who say such things are secure of their jobs – they are people like me, who can work from home. Or else, like journalists and politicians, they have something to gain from hysteria. That we should take precautions goes without saying, but before you join the extremists, put yourself in the place of a poor man thrown out of work for six weeks and wondering how to keep food on the table.
Age has a lot to do with it too. Unsurprisingly, the very young and healthy are reckless. Understandably, the aged and vulnerable are anxious. However, there can also arise quite a gap between the two groups in the middle.
On one hand are people old enough to have outgrown carelessness, but not old enough to have experienced previous episodes of serious public danger. Many of them are badly frightened. On the other hand are people old enough to have lived through several previous ends of the world. Although most of them are cautious, many are also a bit skeptical, and they say so.
Whatever their age or social class, people who do fall into the badly frightened group tend to view all those who are not as frightened as they are as though they were irresponsible teenagers. Since they view everything through this interpretive lens, nothing can convince them otherwise.
So if you're afraid that your older relatives are going out too much for their health, what should you do? Call them up. You can't catch the disease over the telephone. Don’t scold them. Find out what they need. Don't assume that they'll tell you without being asked. If you live in town or nearby, take it to them yourself. Stand at the end of the driveway if you're afraid to get close. Have the grandchildren talk to them through rolled-up car windows if you’re afraid to breathe the same air.
They'll understand. But you need to understand too.