One of the weirdest things about the last two months is the lack of reasonable, reliable information regarding COVID-19. This is partly because it’s a new virus that’s only recently been introduced to human experience, thus science is still catching up. But it’s also a result of all the different ways that a major health crisis like this impacts our world. It has health implications, political implications, financial implications, social implications… So there are a lot of different pressures and peculiarities coming at this issue from a lot of different angles.
Since this crises started, I’ve been staggered by the amount of information and counter-information and misinformation that’s bouncing around. Social media, especially, seems to be a big game of high-stakes poker: “I’ll see your article and raise you one.” How should I handle the mail that’s delivered to our house each day? When am I going to be able to hug my parents again? How likely am I to be re-infected or to infect other people if I’ve already developed antibodies against the virus? I feel like ten different news sources might give me ten different answers to these questions. Even from trusted sources of information — like the Ohio Governor’s Office — it feels like there are conflicting messages about wearing masks or not wearing masks, allowing an expansion of one’s “Circle of Micro-Organisms” to include family outside of one’s household or not.
How do we really know what to believe?!? How do we talk about these strange new elements of our everyday experience?
I don’t know if any people are really reading other people’s articles — but I’ve found little islands of reasonable, reliable information in the rising flood of misinformation. And I like to hold onto those.
The Atlantic recently published an article titled “A Guide to Staying Safe as States Reopen.” I found it to be really helpful. They interview a panel of three experts, and their recommendations come across as remarkably candid, empathetic, and full of well-educated common sense. One example of this is the experts’ response to the question: Can I expand the “Bubble” of people I interact with closely? “Part of the stay-at-home guidelines was essentially, ‘Your bubble should be your household… and what we’re potentially shifting to is, ‘If you’re an extremely small household and really struggling with social isolation, it may be okay for you to have closer contact with a limited number of individuals.’ Restricting your bubble to just your household is still ideal, but… it’s ‘probably not terrible’ to carefully incorporate very limited others.” I guess it’s just helpful to hear experts acknowledge the fact that we all have to make difficult decisions about complicated conditions, and we’re all trying to figure out a way forward as best we can.
On a separate-but-related note, my friend Chad recently sent me a link to an article from CNN titled, “Skin-Hunger and Corona-Jerks: The Dutch Are Inventing New Words to Describe the Impact of the Virus.” Of course, I have a soft-spot for these sorts of articles — being both a grammar-geek (a longtime obsession) and a Dutch-speaker (from my ten years of living in Amsterdam). But I really appreciated some of the insights that these Dutch neologisms help to encapsulate some of the experiences that are becoming common to this global phenomenon. Huidhonger — or “Skin Hunger” — is probably one of my favorite new words to describe that sense of longing for physical contact with other human beings. The Dutch is better than the English because its alliterative and all smushed together in one word. But it just seems like a perfect description of the way this current health crisis is making us all feel. I also really liked the words Hoestschaamte (“Cough Shame”) and Anderhalvemetereconomie (“Six-Foot Economy”). Again, I just think there’s something lovable about the sounds of these words and the way that all the words get smushed together to express a single concept. But even their English equivalents capture new human sensations: that social pressure you feel in addition to the physical pressure that comes when you have to cough in a public space… or the way that we’re all learning to instinctively stay six feet apart from each other.
I don’t know. We’ve still got a lot way to go before we’ve got this all figured out. Still, it’s helpful to have little bits of reassurance that we’re in this together, even if it’s six feet apart.