Many of my friends think that, since I work as an emergency manager, I have more information available to me than the average person, or that I don’t have the same fears as they do during emergency situations. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Like you, I have to deal with the fear of moving back to normal during the COVID-19 crisis, and I rely on information from the same health authorities that you do. My job is in Manhattan, and while I may be able to continue working from home initially, at some point, I will have to venture onto the subway and be around crowds of people. While I’m not looking forward to it, I do believe it is best that we try to get back to a more normal way of living. We cannot hide out in our homes forever and there are precautions we can take while getting back to normal.
First, acknowledge that normal has changed. Some people have ventured into visiting friends and attending parties and group gatherings like nothing ever happened. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic. The “normal” we knew is gone for now. We have to accept that we need to curtail some of our activities and behaviors in order to avoid getting sick or getting others sick. It’s tempting to want to get back to weddings, parties, and other social gatherings, but the reality is that the more people you are around, the higher your risk of contracting COVID-19. Stay away from large gatherings.
Next, follow the guidelines of health authorities and wear your mask. Acknowledge that no one is trying to curtail your right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Wearing a mask when you are around others is crucial to keeping the number of people who get sick down. Think of it this way: when the ban on cigarette smoking in public was introduced, most people were all for it. The ideas of the greater good and of not making others sick became rallying cries to end smoking in public places. Most people embraced it wholeheartedly, never once thinking about the rights of smokers or how difficult this would be on them. Wearing a mask goes along the same lines. Since you can be asymptomatic and still pass COVID-19 to others, you need to wear a mask. Your children need to wear a mask, and so do your friends. Instead of thinking about wearing a mask as a way to curtail your liberties, think of it as a sign of how much you care for your fellow humans.
By the way, make sure to teach your children that masks are not toys to be traded like Lego blocks. Kids may not understand the importance of masks and could very easily be persuaded to trade their Spiderman mask for their friend’s Batman one, for example. Swapping masks like this could put their health in danger, so make sure your kids understand why they are wearing a mask and how important it is to keep their mask to themselves.
If you feel uncomfortable in an environment, say so. Just because your boss wants you to come back to work, doesn’t mean you have to do so if you are not comfortable with the safety precautions at your workplace. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions about cleaning schedules and disinfection. If you share an office or space with someone, make sure your employer has social distancing measures in place, and if they are not, speak to human resources. If you see too many people on an elevator, you can say something or wait for the next one.
If you feel more comfortable wearing a face shield and mask in your work environment, then by all means, do so — if people laugh or make fun of you, ignore them. I recently bought face shields to wear when I travel on the subway. While my husband thought it was overkill, using a face shield on the subway will make me more comfortable with the idea of traveling to and from Manhattan. People can laugh or look at me strangely if they want to, but I will feel better and more protected, so I will proudly wear it.
Flu season is coming up, and we have no idea how the twin concerns of the coronavirus and influenza will affect this winter. All we can do is take the best precautions we can and be prepared for the worst. Check out the links below to get further information on how to prepare for going back to work and school. Our health authorities are doing their best to protect us, and we can help them — and ourselves — by following their advice.
For more information on returning to work: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/returning-to-work.html
For specific questions about the virus, see the CDC’s FAQ section: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html
This post was contributed by Shoshana Yehudah, Director of Emergency Preparedness, Touro College