OPINION: Yes, we still have to do things the hard way

The last 60-odd days sure have been a drag, huh?

I’m sure you’re tired of thinking about COVID-19, and talking about it, and certainly reading about it. 

It is now the official second-worst small talk icebreaker, just behind how the weather was great, and now is bad again. If I get — or send — one more email leading with hopes that one is “staying safe out there,” I think I might throw up.

I hate wearing a mask to go outside; it makes it harder to breathe and is generally just an uncomfortable, unnatural thing to do. 

But I still am furious when I still see people outside without them.

With summer right around the corner, attitudes toward the pandemic have become noticeably more relaxed. 

I don’t often leave the house these days — I suspect budding agoraphobia and/or increased binge-watching are to blame — but every time I do, I have to duck around pedestrians who could not care less about the recommended six-foot distance needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

That, coupled with an unnerving amount of people not wearing masks, has started to make my blood boil whenever I choose to venture outside. 

For those of us living in Illinois, there are small shreds of hope to be found in what is otherwise a nightmare scenario. The makeshift hospital in McCormick Place has plans to shut down, due to local hospitals no longer being grossly overwhelmed by the number of COVID patients. Gov. Pritzker released the state’s phased plan to reopen, with the final phase labeled “Illinois Restored.”

“I think our flattening the curve efforts have been successful in that we have managed not to overwhelm the healthcare system,” said Dr. Craig Klugman, a professor in DePaul’s department of health sciences. 

This is progress. It is a step in the right direction. It does not mean that come May 29, it will be safe to storm city beaches or throw parties or catch the Crosstown Classic.

I understand that my perspective of coronavirus is not one of immediate danger. I’ve been lucky that, while in quarantine, I’ve had a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and the ability to connect virtually with my loved ones. I’ve been living temporarily with my mother while in quarantine, and being able to see her every day and know that she is safe and healthy has given me enormous peace of mind.

It hasn’t been painless, though. I phased through the stages of panic quite early on, and the biggest challenge currently is the dull, persistent ache at the thought of this being a permanent reality.

This situation sucks for everyone, plain and simple.

However, I recognize that in order to endure this situation, I have to do my part. That includes wearing a mask, gloves, and — to impart a bit of humor — avoiding people like the plague when I am in public.

I miss my friends and family outside of my current living situation. I miss the feeling of possibility,  especially considering that summer, my absolute favorite time of year, is so close.

But I know that hosting get-togethers with friends sans masks or proper social distancing is not the way to positively contribute to this situation.

The virus does not care that you are bored. It isn’t going to disappear into thin air because summer is within spitting distance and damn it, you want to have fun.

“We didn’t lock ourselves in because the weather was terrible and it was still winter,” Klugman said. “We did it because it is a virus that infects a lot of people, that makes people sick and apparently has some long-term chronic disease aspects to it…it killed a lot of people. To recreate the situation of people gathering close together in small spaces, it would be like we never shut down in the first place.”

The state will soon begin to reopen, little by little. While you may find yourself compelled to revert back to a pre-COVID lifestyle, remember that there is not a vaccine in place yet. If we want to continue to flatten the curve, it will take patience and careful wading, not diving in headfirst.

If you choose to visit with people outside your immediate living situation, please be cautious: keep a safe distance, and please don’t assume that everything will fall back into place just because you are fed up with the way things are.

I know the prospect of having to keep up these precautions is discouraging, especially for those of us who feel as if our youth is being wasted by the pandemic and are at less risk of getting sick.

But, remember, it isn’t only ourselves we have to look out for. 

Consider the essential workers subjecting themselves to stressful, potentially dangerous working conditions out of financial need. 

Consider the journalists, covering stories of death and despair on a massive scale, only to have their newsrooms cut open. 

Consider the health care professionals, who have been thrown into the fire of the pandemic face-first, with the weight of the world on their shoulders to tend to the infected population.

You know better. Please do not choose to be ignorant.