My friend’s daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend came down with COVID-19, or so they think. That’s what the doctors figured, over the phone of course. So the unhappy young couple remains homebound, taking care of each other.
No test, no certainty.
But they really need to know. How can the mightiest country on Earth have so little testing? It’s maddening to them.
My other friends, father, mother and my godson, also came down with the disease, or so they think. Stay home and get better, the doctor said.
No test, no certainty. And for them — no problem. No need to know.
That’s the way this coronavirus crisis flows, a roiling ocean of ambiguity, not just on the question of whether I have COVID-19, but for just about everything.
People who need clear, concrete answers are drowning in frustration. People comfortable with chaos and ambiguity, the ones who thrive on shades of gray, take the daily dose of confusion with their morning coffee and the boat keeps sailing.
The gray waves of inexactitide keep coming. Social distancing laws. The power of the states to enforce orders. Unemployment claims. What’s happening with sports leagues? Can my kids play in the street? Is the crisis getting better or worse?
Sorry, concrete people. There are no clear answers here. The chaos creepers win this round.
Take masks. Especially masks. At first, even as all of Asia looped surgical masks around their collective faces, even as governments scrambled to find them, the message was mixed.
In a March 10 Q&A on the Yale News website, the university’s eminent epidemiologist Albert Ko said, “Wearing a face mask should be reserved for when you are sick and in proximity to others (to avoid infecting them) or if advised by your health care provider.”
He added, don’t rush out to buy masks. “The common surgical facemasks are not effective in preventing an uninfected person from being infected.”
Now a few short weeks later, Ko is co-chairman of Gov. Ned Lamont’s committee to decide when and how to reopen the state — speaking of waves of ambiguity — and masks are de rigeur. Anyone not wearing a mask in a supermarket is like that Chicago Cubs fan who reached out and ended the Cubbies’ shot at a World Series.
They’ll be run out of town. Lamont himself even wore a mask, sort of, on Wednesday as he issued an order, sort of, for all Connecticut residents to wear a mask, sort of, when the go out. Or something like that.
Confused? Yeah, that’s the point. It’s not clear and it’s not going to be clear. Sorry, concrete people. Embrace the chaos.
Lamont never actually donned the mask he wore around his neck at the daily, televised-only briefing Wednesday. I thought it was a black kerchief, something from the Round Hill Club in the ‘70s. But he talked about the importance of masks and said he’d “probably” issue an order requiring the face coverings in public within 48 hours.
Reporters took turns over the phone lines demanding precision. Who’s going to enforce the mask order? Does it apply anytime we walk outside? What about while exercising? Where are all the masks coming from? What kinds of masks do we need to wear?
Lamont ranks well up in the top quarter among leaders in this crisis, but when it comes to mastering gray, he stands alone, unchallenged. He doesn’t even seem to understand the questions about precision in these orders, so powerful is his ambiguity comfort center.
Oh, sure, his message is clear: Use common sense, people. But that’s not good enough for the by-the-book crowd.
“I am strongly saying this is what you’ve got to do,” he said. If you go outside, take a mask. “If you get to a crowded group, wear a mask… If you go into a crowded store and you’re going to be interfacing with a lot of people, wear a mask.”
Enforcement? No, the cops aren’t going to slap handcuffs on you if you lack a mask. Yes, public officials are watching big stores for masks and distancing, and sometimes telling the managers to step it up. “Right now it’s being self enforced,” Lamont said. “People are overwhelmingly following that lead.”
Who’s providing these masks? The state, partly, but chiefly only for people on the front lines that need it. Ditto, the private “Masks for Heroes” group launched by Bob Stefanowski of Madison, Lamont’s 2018 opponent. If you can’t find one, make one.
My question, which I didn’t get to ask: Can you walk into a store that sells masks, without a mask on?
What about sports leagues? Most chose not to play in front of empty seats. Now it appears the Travelers Championship golf tournament, Connecticut’s biggest sports event, will take place as scheduled in late June — with no fans, so we can watch it on TV. What’s the point of that? Not clear to me in the slightest.
Beyond the rules and the culture, even the very nature of this new virus is unclear. I asked Dr. Matthew Cartter, the state epidemiologist, whether people who had the disease and are over it can go back to contact with other people.
“We’re assuming that you’re no longer capable of transmitting the disease,” Cartter said.
Assuming? Can a recovered person get COVID-19 again? “That’s a different question,” Cartter said, a few weeks ago.
By now, maybe we have better information. Or maybe not.
I’m comfortable with that.