There’s simply no way to get around it: COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially around the country, including in cities like New York and Los Angeles that were particularly hard-hit when the disease first entered the U.S. this spring. Chicago is on lockdown as of Monday, hospitals in Missouri are turning people away, and another school shutdown looms in New York. While all of this horror unfolds, the question we all thought we’d definitively answered in March has returned with a vengeance: What do we do?

In an ideal world, the federal government would take greater responsibility in helping the U.S. stem the tide of COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, though, we still live in Trump’s America, and even liberal politicians like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio seem more concerned with issuing panicked exhortations on Twitter than shutting down indoor dining or taking any other meaningful steps to protect us.

Once again, Americans find ourselves in the all-too-familiar predicament of expecting more from one another than we can from our elected leaders; it’s maddening, certainly, to feel our every individual choice imbued with so much potential harm, but right now, all we can do is try—haphazardly and imperfectly, if necessary–to keep each other safe.

Right now, keeping ourselves and our communities safe looks different than it did even a few weeks ago. To avoid stigmatizing anyone else’s choices, I’ll submit myself as a test case; I’ve been seeing friends, albeit exclusively outdoors and with the benefit of masks and regular COVID-19 testing, since this summer. I’ve eaten in restaurants—always outside, but still—and I’ve gone on dates, even if they always came with readily exchanged negative test results.

Overall, I consider myself a responsible, if occasionally flawed, adaptor to these bizarre times, and a few weeks ago, I would have stood by any of the above choices; after all, we know that masks work, and that outdoors is far safer than indoors in most cases. As the positive rate in my home city of New York climbs toward 3%, though, I’ve once again learned to change my behavior overnight.

Ever since someone in my social orbit tested positive on Monday, the rules I’ve vaguely adhered to for the past five months have solidified and gotten more extensive as my anxiety levels have soared once again. The multi-person backyard hangs I got used to over late summer and early fall are over, at least for now; I’m not sitting down at a bar or restaurant again until New York cases drop significantly, no matter how well-spaced or uncrowded its outdoor-dining setup is; there will be no dates with new people for a while, even if I see a PDF of their negative results beforehand.

I don’t claim that these specific guidelines have to work for everyone—after all, I’m a culture writer, not a doctor or even a science journalist, and there are people who have been adhering to far stricter guidelines than I have for months on end—but I do think it’s time for everyone in the U.S. to start thinking about how they can re-limit their sphere of contact with the outside world. It’s imperative that young, healthy, mobile people like myself reconsider how many people we’re coming into contact with; otherwise, we run the risk of infecting people who are far worse-positioned to recover from COVID-19 than we are.

I was lucky enough to test negative for COVID-19 on Monday, but testing is becoming increasingly crowded and hard to access, giving me all the more reason to preserve my negative results by avoiding even moderate-risk activities for as long as possible. I’m lucky enough to be able to work remote, alongside three roommates who are all doing the same; if people in our situation can’t limit our activities in the face of a bona fide public health emergency, who can?

Obviously, I don’t plan to stay in my apartment until the day a vaccine becomes available; it’s possible that our current COVID-19 emergency will give way to another period of plummeting positive cases and ensuing calm. Until then, though, the very least I can do is initiate tough conversations with the people in my life about what our plan is to stay sane and safe throughout what will undoubtedly be a tough winter. Like it or not, it’s time for many of us to close the circle, but not without some measure of optimism; as someone recently said to me: “It’s never too late to change your behavior for the better.”

Source: vogue.com