Thousands of fearless people across the country took to the beaches, parks, racetracks, pools, clubs and streets this holiday weekend, drunk with freedom, liberty and their constitutionally guaranteed right to kill as many people as they chose. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law cried over her baby’s hospital bed in the pediatric intensive care COVID-19 unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The entire body of my sweet, precious 2-year-old niece had erupted in an angry, untouchable rash. A high fever for six days may have been the reason her heart was experiencing rhythm irregularities. In the COVID-19 unit, my niece screamed in terror at the strange army of hazmat-suited strangers who lunged at her. Even after three days there, my niece couldn’t get used to the sight of them. Though lethargic from fever most times, she fought off her medical caregivers while my sister-in-law, alone and exhausted, tried to soothe and calm her. One nurse told my sister-in-law the last child she’d admitted to the unit had died. As you can imagine, this information did not help my sister-in-law in her efforts to sleep in her semi-reclining vinyl chair.
My niece was blameless for this punishment, and so was my sister-in-law. She worked from home and kept her two children there most of the time. There were a couple of careful exceptions: They’d gone hiking in the park, being careful about social distancing and masks. My sister-in-law grocery shopped alone and wearing a mask. My brother-in-law returned to work in a public place. This public place tried to ensure the safety of its workers by requiring gloves and masks for its employees. So, how did my niece contract coronavirus?
How did this happen?
Safety precautions only work if everybody participates. Here is the best theory we have: one person entered my brother-in-law’s workplace. This person was asked to don a mask and did, at first, but probably took it off the minute they passed through security (Nobody tells them what to do!). This person has the virus, but doesn’t know it. They encounter my brother-in-law, spreading the virus. My brother-in-law returns home, spreading coronavirus to his whole family. Only his daughter develops symptoms. She becomes very sick, alarmingly quickly.
It’s ironic that, while this unfolds in one part of my family, another faction in my family believes COVID-19 is some sort of hoax, or a bizarre, politically motivated power move. I love these family members, but for my own mental health I’ve been forced to cut them out of my life until they re-engage with the reality of what is actually happening in their own family.
No person is an island. We all have to rely on each other to get through this. Children you know and children you don’t know depend on you to keep them safe. Just wear a freaking mask at the grocery store. It’s not that hard. It’s not going to last forever. You’re not doing it to appease some scientist or politician. It’s not a political issue. You’re doing it to keep my sweet baby niece—and yours—alive.
I understand there are people who will insist on reaping all the benefits of living in a community, but want to shoulder none of the responsibilities regardless of how little is asked of them. For these fearless lone wolves who cite probability in their favor, I have put together a simple logic exercise:
You, the fearless, have a high probability of catching the coronavirus.
You, the fearless, have a lower probability of getting sick from it.
You, the fearless, have a high probability of spreading the disease to strangers.
You, the fearless, have no idea what your probability is for finding yourself in our family’s situation.
But when/if that occurs, you have a low probability of eliciting sympathy from me.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said a baby had died of COVID-19. The text should have said “child” and has been changed.