Op-Ed: We need to work together

By John Swan

They say great challenges bring out the best, and worst, in people. We are certainly experiencing one of the greatest challenges in recent history. With the coronavirus spreading across the country and the world we are tested as both communities and individuals to do our part to protect and support each other like never before.

The best of us is on display every day, from the nurse that lives across the street who puts her life on the line to comfort the unending stream of patients coming into her hospital, to the many workers who staff our local stores and grocery markets each day putting themselves at risk.

But unfortunately there are others who just don’t seem to care about their neighbors. 

A week or so ago my wife and I were walking down Centre Street when a young man about 25 passing us paused to cough in our faces and laugh as he continued down the street. This was so unsetting to my wife that she doesn’t want to go outside at all anymore. So I now do our shopping, but with a heightened vigilance.

Last Saturday I walked down to Centre Street again to the pharmacy and was struck by the difference between how younger folks under 30 and older folks are reacting to pleas from the state to protect each other by wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from each other in public.

The first people I saw was a group of teenage boys, close together, strutting down the sidewalk laughing and talking loudly as they passed older bystanders wearing masks of all kinds, from N95s to homemade ones of many colors.

 In my brief anecdotal assessment as I walked to CVS it was apparent that many younger people wore no face coverings and were not keeping a safe distance from others on the street.

Inside CVS, as I waited in line at the front of the store, another group of teenagers behind me were right up against an Asian woman in front of them who asked them nicely to back off six feet. The kids refused and made fun of the woman as she stood there helpless.  

In some ways I’m not surprised. The message we get from President Trump and the government is vague and emphasizes that young people are not at as much risk as older ones. 

And I want to thank those younger neighbors who do take this seriously. But it’s disturbing to see this obvious schism between generations, including websites that tout “Boomer Removal” messages, however serious or not. 

I won’t get into this issue of why the federal government did not plan to have quality masks available for everyone, or their lame suggestions we make our own masks, which are not nearly as effective as commercial ones. 

But suffice to say that perhaps if we all had the availability of quality masks (not to mention widespread testing) young people may be more amenable to wearing them. 

In any case, what’s very clear is that if we don’t all work together to isolate this virus, future spikes in infections will continue, the economy will suffer and our adversaries beyond our shores will be tempted to take advantage of our situation in ways we are only now beginning to understand.

John Swan is a former founding staff member of the Gazette.

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