The pandemic forced us all to learn how to cope when our worlds are turned upside down, leaving us at home, alone in solitude with doubt and worry.
The one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States has passed, and feelings of isolation have been combined with frustration and exhaustion as cases rise and as I see people blatantly disregarding CDC guidelines for staying safe during this time. Covid-19 is still a problem, and it seems like no one sees that but me.
On social media, I see posts of friend groups vacationing and partying. I see pictures of graduated peers who preached Covid-19 safety last spring now in crowded bars, pretending this is a normal freshman year of college, even though it’s not and shouldn’t be treated as such. I watch teammates swear to Covid-19 safety honor codes, only to then see posts of their weekend rendezvous. I feel like I’m alone in a bubble, still following the rules, while the rest of the world has seemingly moved on and forgotten about a pandemic.
I haven’t been a saint when it comes to rule-following over this past year, but I’ve been able to find ways to stay connected with friends without compromising the livelihoods of others. I’ve been able to meet with friends, masked in outdoor settings, equipped with lots of hand sanitizer and an unspoken moral contract that we haven’t been acting in ways that risk the health of others.
I want to have fun as much as the next person, but now is not the time. While I would love to pretend that just because society has adapted to living in a pandemic means the pandemic’s over, the reality is that people are still getting sick and hospital beds are continuing to be filled. The partying and super-spreader events can wait.
Having a job between the BeltLine and Piedmont Park has shown me the sheer number of people who aren’t following safety regulations anymore. On warm, sunny weekends, I see hundreds of people swarm sidewalks, drinks in hand and masks out of sight. On the weekend of March 13, one year after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a public health state of emergency, Park Tavern hosted a St. Patrick’s Day ShamROCK celebration, which brought in thousands of people. Masks and social distancing were required, but there was no room to enforce them, and employees had long given up on mask-policing.
Seeing businesses and restaurants continuing to host high-risk events such as these is disheartening. They are failing their responsibility to keep their community safe. While I understand the pandemic has taken a serious toll on these businesses, and they are trying to stay afloat, many have found ways to stay open and bring in revenue without hosting events that bring in thousands of people into small, crowded spaces. Supporting local businesses in a safe way is something very important to me, but now is not the time for festivals and crowded concerts.
The government seems to have the same disregard for public safety: Gov. Kemp outlined a plan on March 31 to start lifting Covid-19 restrictions starting as soon as April 8, despite fears of a “fourth surge” of the virus. Restrictions, including a ban on large gatherings and the number of rules bars, restaurants and other venues currently have to follow, will be lifted. The responsibility will then be placed on us to follow a moral code in terms of safety, and with what I have witnessed so far, I have little to no confidence in a moral code as the only means of protecting the city from the virus.
While widespread vaccination seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, rolling back restrictions and returning to normal life is premature. I am hopeful the 2021-2022 school year will be closer to normal, with a higher percentage of the population vaccinated, but we must stay safe, push through the rest of the pandemic and hold each other responsible.
When life does return to normal and thoughts of the pandemic are distant, I know I will always remember who was taking this public health crisis seriously and who was endangering others and failing in their civic duty. Do better, and keep your peers safe.