‘Extremely Isolated and Never Alone’ warzel.substack.com

For his excellent Galaxy Brain newsletter, Charlie Warzel interviewed epidemiologist Julia Marcus about what feels like the end of this pandemic. I thought this response to a question about emerging from our cocoons was thoughtful:

This is an awkward moment. People have had vastly different experiences of the past year — from minor inconvenience to full blown trauma, and there are a lot of stressed out people in between. In some ways, nothing’s changed. People are continuing to judge each other’s behavior: they’re either moving on too quickly or not quickly enough. Compassion on all fronts would probably go a long way.

I think, though, that it’s important to differentiate between peoples’ individual behaviors and what policies need to be in place. As a public health person I think about both. The online and media discourse has been so focused on individual behavior — for example, the whole, ‘why are you still wearing [or not wearing] a mask outside?!’ debate. It’s often questions about what individuals are doing. But policy is so different and subject to its own distractions. Take outdoor mask mandates, which have had an outsized focus. There’s this visibility bias, I think. We focus on things we can see and control, while the real risks — in workplaces and households — remain out of sight and largely unaddressed.

This interview comes a day after the Alberta government announced its reopening plan. After a few weeks of having the highest rate of novel coronavirus cases in North America and, consequently, living with the strictest restrictions we have faced since last spring, the province announced that we would revert to our moderate April restrictions on June 1. If hospitalizations are still declining and vaccinations reach a threshold, those guidelines will be expanded slightly just a couple weeks later. And then, just a couple of weeks after that, the plan is to eliminate all restrictions. It feels bizarre; it is hard to believe.