US Navigates Radical New Social Norms


There is a new type of social policing that has grown almost as quickly as the viral disease that spurred its arrival. It’s called “midlife shame,” calling out those who leave home for daily activities or who violate social distancing rules. And it’s part of a new reality for Americans who must navigate a world of rapidly changing social norms in the age of COVID-19. As schools close and shelter-in-place orders sweep across the United States, the gap between those who take orders very seriously and those who try to live their lives with some semblance of normalcy is widening day by day. . To complicate matters: what was socially acceptable 48 hours ago may now be taboo.

The president of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce didn’t mind attending a small dinner at a local restaurant to strengthen the business and bring other leaders together to discuss how to help Asian-American restaurants devastated by the coronavirus.

That was, at least, until he brought it up on Instagram. Comments were swift from people dismayed that Ryan Winkle was promoting a rally – however small – as COVID-19 raged and entire cities were asked to self-isolate.

“I started getting messages saying, ‘Hey, why are you trying to spread the virus?’ I was like, ‘This is a small event, and everyone had washed their hands, and they had disinfectant on the tables,’ “Winkle said of the dinner held at Mesa on Saturday. , Arizona. “My thinking is always focused on the economy. Imagine when all of these businesses close. This is a whole other problem. “

‘The shame of quarantine’ – denouncing those who violate social distancing rules – is part of a new and surprising reality for Americans who must navigate a world of rapidly changing social norms in the age of COVID -19. As schools close and shelter-in-place orders sweep across the United States, the gap between those who rigorously practice self-isolation and those who still try to lead a semblance of normal life has never been greater. clear. To complicate matters: What was socially acceptable just 48 hours ago may now be taboo, as government officials rush to contain the virus with ever-expanding circles of social isolation.

“The time matrix seems to be changing. I have never seen several days go by so slowly and watch the collective consciousness move more and more in one direction day by day,” said Paula Flakser, who lost her job as barmaid when the California Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort closed this week.

For those who have to go to work, the gap is widening too.

Steve Diehl, who is considered a critical employee at his warehouse job near Chicago, wears a mask to work because a family member has a weakened immune system. He is terrified of catching the new coronavirus or passing it on to his loved one at home.

Diehl displayed a sign at the entrance to the warehouse asking people to put on masks provided “to protect the immunocompromised family,” but several colleagues were not wearing them, he said. One of them coughed into his hand as he stood by Diehl’s desk – then started to touch things on his desk with the same hand.

“It pissed me off a lot,” said Diehl, who posted a photo of him masked on Twitter. “And when I made a comment about it, they ignored it.”

Others who try to juggle working from home while caring for children who are also at home make smaller, more mundane choices that nonetheless elicit shocked reactions – even scolding – from co-workers. , friends and even family. Is it okay to run for a coffee? Can you allow your children to go to the playground? What about sending children to day care centers, which remains the only lifeline in many states that have closed schools?

Flakser, the woman who lost her job as a bartender, said she was overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who flocked to her small hometown of Bishop, Calif., Los Angeles and other major cities to pick up their vacations the minute schools close. The 42-year-old climber posted angry messages at the crowd on Facebook and was quoted in an online climbing magazine, Thundercling.

So many people descended on a climbing spot called Happy Boulders over the weekend that queues of people were walking through the narrow canyon. The roads to the top meant dozens of people were grabbing the same holds in the rock over and over again, potentially spreading germs, she said.

“When people in urban areas flee, they flee to vulnerable areas that have incredibly limited medical resources – and that seemed quite legitimate and selfish,” she said in a telephone interview. “It sounds like a lot of first world privileges knocking on our door.”

As of Wednesday, the crowd had shrunk – perhaps because of the article and the social media posts – but “this weekend will be the real barometer,” Flakser said.

His concerns echo those who have criticized St. Patrick’s Day revelers who have flooded bars in Chicago and New Orleans and those who have called in college students who flock to beaches for spring break. An Instagram video of hundreds of revelers wrapped up on an “alcoholic cruise” to the Bahamas sparked comments calling for a boycott from the company that organized it.

Part of the strong online reaction to these crowd-size violations likely stems from the authorities reportedly struggling to enforce the new rules and relying on a social compact to keep everyone safe. In Oregon, for example, restaurants that continue to offer on-site food service would only face a minor offense – and social shame is much more effective.

Jeff Carreras, owner of Tracey’s Original Irish Channel Bar in New Orleans, said he had faced similar scathing criticisms of the crowd that gathered outside his bar on Saturday. People on Facebook accused him of raising money while ignoring growing warnings about the dangers of crowds during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A poster, Claire Hassig, said on the bar’s page that her 70-year-old mother had to drop by to get to her car and was mobbed by “drunken idiots with no respect for social distancing or her safety.”

Carreras said he kept the crowds inside below its 250 capacity and didn’t set up the usual outdoor bar – but crowds formed nonetheless. It was the bar’s idea to ask the police to separate them when its staff couldn’t, he said.

“There is no way that I am attracting the public to come out and spread a virus as bad as it is,” he said. “We did everything we were asked to do.”

Those appalled at the behavior of some of their fellow Americans this week hailed a crackdown by many state and local governments that add daily to lists of closures and bans.

Bars in a popular Portland, Oregon area used to be busy Friday and Saturday nights, but are now dark after Governor Kate Brown banned all food service at dining establishments and bars across the country. ‘State.

Alec Bhurke, who wrote an angry Facebook post about the weekend crowds, said most people probably only needed that kind of advice from authorities to recognize the seriousness of crisis.

“People don’t understand… the implications of what even a single day does to the body count (of the virus) at this point,” he said Wednesday. “But people should know better – and they should do better.”

Winkle, for his part, has revisited his approach to social distancing since the weekend’s event.

“I understand and I understand where they are coming from,” he said. “I really took it to heart and thought maybe it was time to start slowing things down.”

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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