All right it was a campus cop. I was on campus. You might be thinking, “Good for her!” You might be asking, as my sister did last weekend, Why are you going to the office while sheltering-in-place? You might be wanting to point out I’m not essential. I’m still, after all, on sabbatical. You might be rolling your eyes.
Take a look around at the room you’re in. Now double it. Odds are you’re envisioning more space than we have in the 1-bedroom apartment my partner works from home in now. Maybe every other day I go to the office to get alone time to write and to spare my back from sitting upright in our bed. I’ve seen all of 1 person inside my building in 3 weeks. I sanitize my hands before I arrive and every time I exit my office, a windowless room behind two locked doors.
I’m USF’s Typhoid Mary. AMA.
The way public health measures work is through collective participation, leaving the man who leaves home for the office during a shelter-in-place order no better than an anti-vaxxer. Except I’ve been obeying public health measures—handwashing, distancing, staying home as much as possible—and shelter-in-place orders are municipal measures. They do the work of enforcing civic behaviors when enough of the public can’t (or won’t) be trusted to follow public health orders on their own.
What I’m getting at is the line between personal and civic responsibility. And civic and personal encroachment. Don’t close the parks, stop the people acting irresponsibly in the park, should you discern them to indeed be acting irresponsibly.
“What you’re telling me is that because you live close to campus you get to come to your office,” the campus cop said to me today, meaning that my logic—the logic I was able to give her at the time—was flawed, inconsiderate, and selfish. What if everybody thought the way you do? Well, then I’d probably stay home.
Given everything I’ve read about how this virus is transmitted, I’ll never be convinced that my walking two blocks to sit for 5 hours in a locked room inside an empty building is irresponsible. I’m not encroaching on the public’s health. The civic order, in this small way, is encroaching on me.
I know: boo hoo. Learn to write in bed. But look: when police tell people keeping socially distant where they can and cannot be, we’re living in a police state. And from what I’m seeing online—with people walking innocently through parks taking pictures of who they assume are illegally sitting in parks—I think more people are okay with a police state than I’m comfortable with.
I was happy to see this article in the NY Times on how we’ll know it’s time to reopen everything, because like you it’s a question I’ve been asking every day. The folks the Times talked to see a 4-step rubric:
- Hospitals need to be able to treat everyone requiring hospitalization
- Everyone with symptoms needs to be able to get tested
- The state needs to be able to monitor and track all new cases
- Cases need to decrease in number for 14 days
I’m on board with every step but step 3, because the best way to accomplish step 3 is through cellphone tracking, and the best way to turn a temporary, crisis-instigated police state into a permanent one is to convince people that cellphone tracking on the part of the state is not just necessary but good for us all. And it’s not.
I’ve been proud of San Francisco’s mayor only once in her tenure as a public official, and it’s when she ordered sheltering in place, UPDATE: Our celebrity mayor never ordered anything. She only scheduled a press conference first after receiving the order (along with every other Bay Area mayor) from county health directors, which order (again, not hers) has begun to flatten the curve of infections sooner than most other parts of the U.S. (Breed’s current refusal to house the homeless in vacant hotel rooms, however, is a decision she is making personally.) I am, let me be clear, On Board with public health orders. People who can work from home should not be forced to come to an office.
But at this stage of the pandemic, I’m worried that the rising deaths and the communal fear and uncertainty about our future is making us more distrustful, turning us all against each other, and thus toward authoritarian, punitive forms of comfort. People online asking why the cops aren’t arresting more people outside is not a good sign. It’s a sign of bad things to come.
I remember the passing of the PATRIOT ACT, that wretched, Orwellian-named legislation that handed the federal government far more authority over our personal lives than we’d ever cede outside of a crisis. And nearly 2000 fewer people died from the attacks of Sept 11 than have currently died in New York from this virus.
We’re going to lose so many more lives. But let’s not be ready again to give so much of our lives up.