Friday, October 09, 2020

Confusion on Pandemic Protocols Demonstrates We Have Poor Leadership

 The social website "NextDoor.com" is a platform where neighbors can discuss local issues. I first learned about it when my sister-in-law used it in her neighborhood to call out for a request to borrow a wheelchair, and a neighbor of hers (who she did not know) offered to lend us a wheelchair for free. It seemed like a nice idea. You have to be a neighborhood resident to participate.

Sometimes, debates that break out on NextDoor are very revealing of cultural issues in American society. I find, for example, that some people are very scared by shootings, and find it necessary to reply to a story by commenting with a few words like "Scary!" or "That's awful." While it is true that shootings are horrible, I don't feel the urge to post such messages, and I also note that few of these shootings are robberies or random. I view them more as sad and worrisome signs of social disfunction than as personally scary.

Yesterday there were over one hundred posts in just a few hours responding to a mother who said her small children, 2 and 5, were being harassed two little boys and using foul language in the neighborhood park. She threatened to call the police and post pictures of the boys on NextDoor if the parents did not reply to her message. This led to an outpouring of comments, most saying that one should never post pictures of minors on social media without permission, and criticism of the threat to call the police, given the problem of police violence. The mother replied with a very measured message, thanking the poster for letting them know of the problem, and saying that foul language and bad behavior was definitely not tolerated in their home and she and her husband would be talking to the boys and going to the park with them in the next couple of days. But she also pushed back at the threats to call the police and post the boys' pictures. Her reply was great; many of the comments were embarrassing, so I did not read most of them.

A few days earlier, a Black WashU student who lives in an apartment with other Black female students wrote to complain that neighbors had called the police on them, once for her roommate screaming loudly in frustration over something, and another time because they were making too much noise playing music at 10:30 pm, celebrating a birthday. The police had been very disrespectful and actually made the birthday girl cry. The student, very reasonably, asked that neighbors come over and talk to them before they called the police, as they did not mean to bother anyone, and police encounters for Blacks are fraught with danger. This led to a vigorous back and forth, as some said they should have known that quiet time in University City starts at 10 pm, others saying it is not right to expect people to confront neighbors since people have guns and you don't know how they might react. One writer accused the student of being privileged for being able-bodied, because she would not have been able to go up the stairs to the women's apartment to speak to them. When you read some of these exchanges, you can't help but feel that social media makes conflict and polarization worse, not better.

Today a dispute is brewing on my NextDoor feed over Covid and masks. Here is the first post:

Laura Central West End West

Covid-19. I’ve been riding my bike or walking in Forest Park and I always wear my mask. If I don’t see anyone near me I occasionally pull it down but mostly just keep it on because many times people ride or run right next to me from behind without masks on. I’d say 95% of people at the park do NOT wear masks. And they don’t stay 6’ away either. What’s up with that? Missouri’s numbers are high and this is probably the reason. It’s so frustrating. Please please think of others. At least wear it on your neck and pull it up when you walk, run, or ride next to someone.

Of course, this leads to replies like this:

Central West End West
I don’t wear a mask outdoors. I try to stay well separated, but I don’t believe that passing by someone is dangerous. Indoors is very different.
 
Central West End West
Just wear the mask, please. Indoors or out.

B.B.  • Central West End West

Dosage makes the poison. COVID tends to transmit in longer (15 minutes or more) close interactions in areas with poor ventilation. There is almost no chance of transmitting COVID in an incidental pass while running or biking. Masks certainly reduce the chances of transmission, but the chances of transmission outdoors are near zero.
• 
Academy
You're pretty dumb to be wearing a mask out doors. I haven't been wearing a mask for months. There's no Law Karen! I'll never wear a mask unless it's super crowded and we have to.
 • 
West End 
Not dumb, just socially responsible, considerate, and intelligent. If others were the same, the infection and death rates from Covid-19 would be much lower. To be in denial about this isn't smart, it's irresponsible.
Amber • Academy
You go outside to get fresh air. Not wear a mask. Most people wont wear one outside so you assume that risk. The chances of it being transmitted passing by in 3 second timeframe isnt likely. Mask should be worn indoors wheres there an inclosed space. Just dont sneeze on anyone and its not a problem.

• 
Central West End West

I don’t believe the evidence points to there being much risk with a quick pass without a mask while walking/running/biking. I don’t think I’d be able to wear a mask while running or biking in Forest Park. 
I also think it’s important to give people space outdoors. I’m often frustrated when groups of 2 or 3 take up a lot of the path when I’m running outdoors without a mask, and I can’t get 6 or even 3 feet away.
 
 • 
Central West End East

There is essential no danger of infection from briefly going by someone outside, several feet away (excepting, say, someone coughing or sneezing in just that  correct instant with the breeze in just the right direction). Walking on a busy sidewalk is a different matter, as then you are passing many people fairly close together, and passing time is much longer. But jogging or biking in the park, you are almost certainly not near anyone for more than a half second.

 • 
Central West End East

So ridiculous! There is fresh air all around you and you are poisoning your lungs with breathing your own breathe, just stupid! Keep riding that bike and being a Karen, sooner or later you will be too sick to ride it, so stupid!


• 
Skinker DeBaliviere

I agree with you, Laura. I wear my mask when I take walks at the park and then distance myself when someone is walking toward me. It is the responsible and safe thing to do.

And on it goes. Social media provides an interesting insight into our culture. And it ain't pretty.

For the record, I do not believe it is necessary to wear a mask in the park. If the issue were not so politicized, and if we were not also arguing over whether it's necessary to wear masks in stores, for example, then we'd have a consensus based on available science. But clearly while we have lots of opinions, there is no agreement on what we should do. The CDC's advice is not entirely clear, though it seems to take the precautionary principle; it says in guidance on visiting parks:

Wear a mask as feasible. Masks are most essential in times when social distancing is difficult, including when hiking on trails that may be popular or crowded.

 It's easy to urge everyone to wear a mask "as feasible," but the advice gets ignored if it does not seem to square with other advice we're given, such as the notion that people need to have close contact for 15 minutes or more to be at risk. If our Dear Leader were not intent on trying to "avoid panic" and denying the seriousness of the pandemic, then maybe such divisions would not be so sharp.