Quarantine fatigue and reporting

Opinion: Columns

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By Tom Holmes

This issue of the Review has an article with the headline, "Al fresco dining by the end of the month?" Is this a situation where the profit motive is trumping public health concerns?

To answer that question, let me tell you a story.

Last Wednesday I drove 170 miles north to Point Beach State Park — 1,000 acres of sand dunes, Lake Michigan, beaches and trees.

I wasn't sure I should go. I was disobeying orders. Gov. Pritzker told me I should be sheltering-in-place.

I was taking a risk. I'm 72 years old and have an underlying condition called Primary Lateral Sclerosis, which puts me in the high-risk category.

I was putting other people at risk, as well. Bears fans would perhaps not mind killing off a few cheeseheads, but that would weigh on my conscience. Was I putting people up there at risk by unwittingly carrying the virus from here to there?

So why did I do it?

The reason — maybe not a good one — was that I had been isolating at home for 10 weeks and I was going stir crazy. I couldn't stop fantasizing about one of the places I love most on this earth.

What happened was that I did a risk/benefit analysis and concluded that the benefit to my mental and spiritual health far outweighed the added risk.

Further, the benefits outweighed the risks because I minimized the risks. In the 13 hours I was not sheltering-in-place, I stopped at a gas station and filled the tank up with no one within 20 feet of me. Wearing my mask, I passed two people on the way to the restroom and washed my hands on the way out.

When I got to Manitowoc, I entered my favorite bakery, loaded up on glazed croissants and the only person I came close to was the man behind the counter. Hand sanitizer again. Iced coffee from a drive-up window, and the next five hours were spent in the woods along the lakeshore with no one coming within 20 yards of me.

I stopped for gas on the way home and passed no one during my trip to the toilet.

When I heard about the possibility of having a sit-down meal outside a local restaurant as early as this weekend, I immediately thought of my little escape to Wisconsin. Gov. Pritzker's public health traffic light has turned to yellow, which means that in the opinion of his consultants, it's time to proceed with caution—just like I did on my jaunt to Wisconsin.

And, from what I'm reading, that's how our village officials and the Chamber of Commerce are proceeding as well. I'm for an incremental, cautious reopening for the following reasons:

Reason one: Nothing is risk-free. If you stay at home, your chance of getting the virus decreases, but the possibility of not paying the rent or becoming clinically depressed increases. One article in this issue, in fact, cites statistics that show a correlation between an increase in unemployment applications and a rise in suicides. It is, I think, time to get our economy out of park and into at least first gear.

Reason two: Quarantine fatigue. It's a psychologist's way of saying stir crazy. Forest Parkers will tolerate isolation only so long, and then we'll start to "cheat" like I did last week.

Reason three: Abstinence as public policy doesn't work. In a way, the stay-at-home order was telling people to abstain from direct social contact. They tried that as public policy with the HIV AIDS epidemic 40 years ago. It's simple, they said. If you don't want to get the virus, don't have sex. They tried that with prohibition. They tried that with anti-drug laws.

Abstinence doesn't work as public policy. It may work for some folks as an individual lifestyle, but I can't find any examples in history where attempts to get back into the Garden of Eden by legal fiat worked.

Reason four: Warmer weather. Experts seem to agree that viruses go into "hibernation" during warmer weather.

Reason five: Harm reduction. When abstinence didn't stem the AIDS epidemic, public policy switched to harm reduction, i.e. if you are going to have sex in spite of what the experts say are the dangers, we're going to show you how to engage in physical intimacy as safely as possible. For example, use condoms.

As I've said before, I tend to be pro-life in my attitude toward abortion, but I don't want Roe v. Wade overturned. In my opinion, Bill Clinton got it right when he said that abortions should be legal, safe and rare. Overturning Roe would make abortions illegal, unsafe and just as prevalent.

Public policy, orders from the governor, or homilies in church will never create a perfect society. That truth in regard to the abortion debate was confirmed for me when I read — in a Jesuit journal no less — "According to the latest numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, 24 percent of women who procure abortions identify as Catholic, almost the same as 22 percent of all U.S. women who called themselves Catholic." (America, the Jesuit Review, 1/24/18)

Bridget Lane got it right when she said, "We want to ensure that Forest Park is the safest place in the suburbs to go, but after that? We have to be fun! People need to start to have fun again."

So, Rory, Tim, Steve, Scott, Bridget, go for it. Go ahead with a plan to gradually reopen Forest Park's small businesses — as long as you keep in mind that the traffic light is still yellow.

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