Opening Up to Not Normal

I know you’d like to believe that as soon as the government allows things to “open back up” that this equates with “everything will go back to normal”. That somehow, our economy will suddenly boom again. That you and your co-workers will be back in the office sharing gossip around the coffee maker. That, somehow, the restaurants will fill up with happy diners, the stadiums will be packed with happy fans, patrons of galleries and theaters will be able to support great art, and beaches will be full of summertime frolic and mischief. You won’t have to stand in a line, six feet from your neighbor, to enter the big-box store (and a mask would no longer be required to do so).

You’d like to believe that all of this will magically change. I understand it gives you hope, to believe that. Hope is important in times like these. But, hope is often at odds with reality.

The truth is, if we were to “open things up” tomorrow, the restaurant would not fill with diners. Because most of the country and those restaurants know that doing so without extensive precautions in place to mitigate the risk to their customers and staff of contracting this virus will mean, in the best case scenario, reducing their capacity by 50%. The additional precautions that staff would have to take in both food service and preparation would be significant and costly. Restaurants, most of whom already operate and the thinnest of profit margins, would not be able to afford it. It’ll likely be cheaper to remain as things are, with a skeleton staff and curbside pick-up only.

How does a sports team re-open a stadium if the only way to keep the fans safe is to enforce strict seating rules and only sell every fourth seat? How can they suggest social distancing at the concessions? Will they have to take the temperature of everyone at the gates? Frankly, it’d be cheaper to play in an empty stadium.

If we open things, will people come?

Likely not.

The truth is that anyone who has been paying even a modicum of attention understands that, even if things were to open up and go completely back to exactly the way they were, going to a restaurant, stadium, conference, grocery store will be balanced with the risk of catching a virus that, if it does not simply make you really really sick, will kill you and or people you love. Is a nice dinner worth that? How about a baseball game?

I know that with a wife with a history of susceptibility to respiratory illness and a daughter with congenital heart issues and a father with severe asthma., even if things were to go back to the way things were tomorrow we would not change what my family has been doing since about mid-February. We would not be going to restaurants or bars to dine-in, we would not be going to concerts or shows. We would not be taking in a baseball game or traveling. We would be socially isolating and limiting our exposure as we’ve been doing. Because that’s what every respected expert suggests is the best way to keep ourselves, and society, safe.

I know most people I know would be doing the same.

I bet most of you reading this would be too.

Until there is a universally available vaccine that is widely distributed and most that we know have taken it and we have been assured by experts that it is safe to do so, then things will not go back to the way they were. Most of the experts I’m seeing peg that in a best case scenario as 36 months.

I know this sucks. I know this means many restaurants will be forced to close. Many small businesses will go under. Much of what we love to do will have to be declined for the foreseeable future. But, this is what it is. These are the sorts of choices we will now have to make. We can’t hope them away. We can’t legislate things back to what they were. We can only make do and make the best of the situation we’re in.