YOLO, FOMO & Taking Chances with COVID

Aren’t we sick and tired of it all? Tired of the coverage and daily counts? The buzz-kill precautions? Being housebound and unwound from the fun and freedom of before?

We thought we had a bit of a reprieve with a vaccine that promised to end the madness and isolation. But it was a false start, a sleight of hand, a Monopoly card instructing us to Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO.

Oh, how we miss and mourn for the GO.

And so, we’ve been going — like crazy. Like frat boys on spring break, rehab grads at Mardi Gras, sugar-jazzed toddlers at the candy bar. We have been making up for lost time and embracing YOLO and FOMO and the amnesia of COVID.

And now here we are. We’ve done our turn around the board without collecting $200 — or coming to terms with the COVID crisis. Sadly, there are no winners in this game of unknowns. But there is plenty of loss.

If it’s been a while since you’ve played Monopoly, you may have forgotten that the dreaded Go directly to jail card is found in two stacks: Chance, and Community Chest.

It strikes me that the first pile speaks metaphorically to our willingness to take chances, to roll the dice, roll up our sleeves for the shot and cross our fingers that we’ll be among the lucky ones, the healthy contingent that will dodge disease and quarantine.

Our country’s response does seem to be a bit of a crapshoot: According to the Center for Disease Control, about 50% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, despite ample access and vials of vaccine going unused.

There are other odds to consider: The vaccine isn’t a 100% sure bet. There are increasing numbers of breakthrough cases. Even if you are symptom-free, you can transmit the virus to those who haven’t been protected, or who carry a higher risk than you, the happy-go-lucky high roller. Children, once considered nearly invulnerable to the ravages of COVID are contracting the virus, being hospitalized, and yes, dying. Turns out they are susceptible to both COVID and the reckless decisions of adults.

Go directly to jail also shows up in the stack of Community Chest cards, which I find a bit chilling. Because, in the beginning, this felt like a community crisis — something we would embrace and eradicate together. We would unite against a common enemy. Look out for neighbors. Rally our reserves to serve the needs of the collective, not just survival of the fittest.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead, we are more divided than ever. Discussions and decision-making about public health have become ugly, unruly and mean-spirited. Social media is rift with misinformation and untruths. Mask wearers and mask challengers give one another the stink eye — or worse. School board meetings, for God’s sake, require extra security because the debate over mask mandates has become so heated.

There’s nothing community-oriented about the current atmosphere. Quite the contrary: Everyone keeps talking about how personal this is. That we must each decide what’s right for us. Sort of a ‘you do you and I’ll do me’ approach to the pandemic — a blind draw from the Chance deck.

But there’s nothing personal about this epidemic. If we’ve learned anything over the last 18 months, it’s how inextricably linked we are. I’m no doctor, but isn’t that implicit in the very definition of virus? That it is a disease-causing infectious agent … transmittable and able to spread, multiply and mutate, with no regard for personal space or preference?

So, it’s time to stop pretending we’re all playing by the same rules, because we are so clearly and severely not.

Turns out we are a nation of rule-bending and breaking-to-smithereens independents — daring authority to step on our toes or tell us no. We want to be able to hop aboard Pennsylvania Railroad, buy a hotel, book a suite and saunter uptown to Park Place — unencumbered by proof of vaccine or a negative test.

COVID-19 doesn’t play by the rules. It cheats. And steals. And kills.

And yet somehow, in addition to being sick and tired of it all, we are surprised. Surprised that we’re not done with it all yet. Surprised that not everyone within our circle, or invited to the family gathering, opted for a vaccine. Surprised when we hear of another positive test, another breakthrough case, a plea to bring back masks, news of pediatric hospital wards being filled to capacity.

None of that should surprise us. Or divide us. And it shouldn’t be personal.

Because no matter which camp we align with, we do interact. We connect, directly or via convoluted human contact chains. Taking individual precautions or, conversely, risks, may sound like a good personal defense. But it goes much deeper than that. Our choices, selfish or selfless, well-considered or rash, affect the collective.

Here’s something else we may need to come to grips with: We need to get beyond being surprised at the inevitable. Immunologists, researchers, and pathology experts explain that viruses evolve over time, and new variants arise when a virus is circulating widely within a population. Delta is upon us, and the World Health Organization has designated variants Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda “variants of interest.” So take a nap, a walk in the park, a healthy dose of vitamin D — and get over being sick and tired of a pandemic that’s making many far sicker than you.

The choices we make reach across the board, the street, the world. I’ve run out of fingers and toes to count friends who’ve been infected. And those numbers spiral and multiply. We are, for better or worse, connected — shuffled together in a caution-colored pile of Community Chest cards.

But here’s what else awaits in the pile, if we think and act like a community of caring souls:

So let’s do better, and get better, so we can GO better — together.

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Lucinda Trew

Writer who believes in the power of language to change minds, change moods and change the world.