(If you’d rather see my ugly mug in a video version of this post, just click here.)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in mourning lately for everything my kids have lost because of the pandemic. I want to help them reconnect with friends, find social and athletic outlets for their energy and anxiety, and– most of all– I want them to experience and enjoy the normal milestones of growing up. If you share any of these same feelings, then you know how hard it is to keep up all the safety precautions needed in this pandemic. The impulse to give in or give up is sometimes overwhelming. But you know what? Doing so isn’t fair to everyone else, and it only prolongs and worsens our situation.
This past weekend, some East Penn parents and other adults organized and held a dance at the Brookside Country Club attended by dozens of teenagers. Video and photos from the event show people crowded together dancing and leaning into each other for pictures. There is no social distancing and almost nobody is wearing a mask.
To those parents who organized this event, let their kids attend, or otherwise enabled the gathering: I can relate to your desire to give your kids the opportunity for some fun. At the same time, I’m deeply concerned about how the event has endangered my own son as well as every other person in the community.
See, here’s the thing about a pandemic: The impact of choices like these aren’t limited to only those who attend. They affect all of us. And this isn’t a matter of my own personal opinion or point of view. It’s a matter of the way in which the pandemic spreads and what we’ve learned from the tragic consequences of these kinds of events elsewhere.
This past summer, a wedding reception was held in rural Maine under similar conditions as this weekend’s country club dance. Only 55 people attended the wedding reception. Even so, that single event led to at least 176 confirmed cases and 7 deaths. None of those who died had attended the reception themselves.
Just a week ago, parents in a small Missouri town organized a private dance for kids in much the same way parents here in East Penn did. A number of COVID-19 cases have already emerged from it, contributing to the closure of their high school. Public health officials are now concerned the dance will be a “superspreader” event, and the efforts needed to contain the damage done by the dance have prevented officials from investigating and helping other people.
There are those who have tried to justify this kind of behavior in the name of rights or individual freedom. But I’m going to be perfectly frank here: I think this is nonsense. We all have rights of course, but those rights have never extended to the right to endanger others for our own entertainment. Even the most committed libertarian knows this. We all know that guzzling a bottle of vodka and then getting behind the wheel is wrong. The fact that it’s bad for you isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that doing so puts others in the community in danger.
We know that as many as 40% of those who have catch the virus– and spread it to others– never suffer any symptoms at all. And among those who do have symptoms, many are contagious before those symptoms set in. This is why using facemasks, keeping our distance from others, and limiting our contact with those outside our own homes is so critically important.
And, by the way, none of this is about living in fear or being overwhelmed by anxiety. The fact that I don’t drink and drive doesn’t mean I’m scared of the world or that I’m giving up my freedom. In the same way, taking basic pandemic precautions to avoid infecting others isn’t about fear or anxiety either. It is basic public health.
I miss my friends, music concerts, parties, pickup soccer games, and other social events as much as anyone else. And my heart aches when I think about all the ways my kids’ lives have been different than any of us planned or wanted these past months. But the virus doesn’t care what any of our reasons are. It doesn’t care about our rationalizations either. Or our politics. Events like the dance this past weekend increase the number of cases and the potential for deaths in our community. No amount of temperature checks or hand sanitizer can change that fact. They threaten all of the hard work and resources that have been devoted to keeping our schools open as much as possible.
And I think we all ought to take that personally.