4 minute read
To us nervous old guys, this pandemic is about risk and fear.
I take early morning walks in my leafy hometown of Swarthmore, PA when the sun is still well below the treetops to avoid social contact and possibly contracting infection. But twice in recent weeks, I’ve turned a corner and run into clusters of young, unmasked joggers, panting heavily. They were all smiles and waved to me. I eyed them with terror and cowered against the bushes to let them pass. Which one of these happy, sweaty 20-somethings is an asymptomatic and oblivious coronavirus carrier? I wondered while pressing my mask tightly against my mouth and nostrils and holding my breath until they were out of sight.
A neurotic overreaction? Maybe. But one news report after another in the past few weeks has declared that it is older people who are most susceptible to the worst outcomes from Covid-19 and younger people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are unwitting vectors of infection and death. Case in point, see this June 27th New York Times article, “43% of U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Are Linked to Nursing Homes”: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-nursing-homes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage. Or this June 25th New York Times article, “A Virus Surges, Younger People Account for ‘Disturbing’ Number of Cases” : https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/us/coronavirus-cases-young-people.html?referringSource=articleShare.
The facts seem indisputable to me, if likely uncomfortable for you: I am older and vulnerable. You are younger and a threat to me and my generation of once-virile, once-indomitable Baby Boomers.
You might argue that, at 62, I’m not that old. Six months ago, I would have heartily agreed with you. I am fit or, if you prefer, spry. I am still working, passionately engaged in political discourse and sports fandom, and full of hopes and dreams much as I was when I had more energy and hair and was an inch or two taller. But old age seems to have been redefined lower during this pandemic so that 62-year-olds are now lumped together with the ancient and infirm. According to a June 27th Washington Post article, “With the Novel Coronavirus, Suddenly at 60 We’re Now ‘Old’”, I am of that age when I should worry about my health during this national crisis. And worry incessantly I do.
You ask me some difficult questions: Why should I begrudge you the chance to reengage with the world now that all states are reopening? After months of good behavior staying cooped up at home, don’t you deserve to walk on the boardwalk and feel the sea breeze? Isn’t it healthier to drive golf balls down green fairways or chase frisbees across open fields and have drinks with friends al fresco afterwards? I don’t resent you for wanting to enjoy these activities. I want to enjoy them, too. But I know they come with risks mostly being borne by myself and other older Americans.
You may not believe the following. But I’m convinced:
- As a society, we have done an inconsistent job at best of controlling this virus and protecting our citizens at large.
- As individuals of conscience, we have done an inconsistent job at best of acting in accordance with our best-researched means for controlling this virus and protecting ourselves, our family members and our fellow citizens at large.
- As a country, we have done an inconsistent job at best of dealing with the unintended consequences of our economic recovery plans. Let’s be transparent here. By too-swiftly reopening most businesses and reactivating much of our workforce, we are increasing the risks for older Americans like me.
Am I being an alarmist? I admit that it wouldn’t be the first time. But just look at the stats. Over 125,00 U.S. dead from Covid-19 so far. That’s more than twice the number of American casualties in the Vietnam War (58,220), more than in World War I (116,516) and nearly as many as in the Korean War (128,650). After those wars, we grieved as a nation because it was the young and brave who died. Today, more than 75% of our pandemic deaths are among the old and ill. Do we grieve as much? Or do Americans care less about their old than they do about their young?
Am I being partisan? I don’t think so. In those moments when I run into those young joggers and feel their hot breath in my face, it doesn’t matter if I’m a Democrat or Republican or Independent. I feel subcortical, animal fear that is older and more primitive than politics.
So what do I want from you, younger person? What is all this crotchety complaining about? In your glee about resuming normal life, please remember the consequences to me and my cohort of your behavioral choices. Think twice before throwing caution to the wind. Respect—and save—your elders. And if I should run into you one early morning, for goodness sake, don’t wave and smile. Slap a mask on your face and stay away.