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Sara’s Diary, Day 64 without baseball: Quarantine fatigue

The Atlantic published an article I’ve been thinking about all week

COVID-19 Outbreak In Chicago
The lonely corner at Clark and Sheffield where there is still no baseball
Photo by Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MLB and the owners of all 30 teams unveiled a possible plan for the 2020 season earlier this week but there have already been enough thoughtful objections to that plan from players and fans of the game that I think it’s pretty unlikely that it will come together. Conversations between the MLB and MLBPA began earlier this week and will continue over the weekend, but MLB Trade Rumors reports they haven’t even begun to talk about the most contentious issue yet: player salaries.

Like most of you I’ve been doing everything I can to do my part. It’s been 64 days of teleworking from my little apartment, 64 days where the most interesting thing I do on a given day is writing this column, checking off a work project, or if I’m really lucky, a socially distanced walk in the sun. Midway through the pandemic the guidance on masks changed and now I don’t go anywhere without one. It’s always around my neck or in my bag to put on if I can’t be more than six feet away from other people. Sometime in the last few weeks masks became mandatory in stores. Earlier today I got a notification from my apartment building management clarifying that common areas like the the mail room or elevators are considered public spaces and require masks if other people are within six feet as well.

It’s very strange to watch the news and hear about states re-opening, people filling bars in Wisconsin and beaches across the country from my position in Chicago. Nothing has been relaxed here, the cases are still spiking in Illinois, the lakefront is still closed and there are more restrictive rules here than there were 64 days ago, not fewer.

Which brings me to the article I can’t stop thinking about. Four days ago The Atlantic published a piece called “Quarantine Fatigue is Real: Instead of an all-or-nothing approach to risk prevention, Americans need a manual on how to have a life in a pandemic. ” The author is a professor of population medicine at Harvard who is an expert on “preexposure prophylaxis” and HIV, which is a really fancy way of saying she knows a lot about teaching people how to avoid getting sick in the face of an infectious disease. I highly recommend you read the entire article but wanted to highlight two parts:

Public-health experts have known for decades that an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay—at least not forever.

Marcus knows what she’s talking about here, she draws on her expertise from the HIV epidemic and, specifically a document that was released in 1983 called “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic.” At a time when many assumed the only answer was abstinence scientists came together with the insight that most people won’t abstain from sex indefinitely, but they will try to protect themselves if you give them the right information.

But the choice between staying home indefinitely and returning to business as usual now is a false one. Risk is not binary. And an all-or-nothing approach to disease prevention can have unintended consequences. Individuals may fixate on unlikely sources of contagion—the package in the mail, the runner or cyclist on the street—while undervaluing precautions, such as cloth masks, that are imperfect but helpful.

Public-health campaigns that promote the total elimination of risk, such as abstinence-only sex education, are a missed opportunity to support lower-risk behaviors that are more sustainable in the long term. Abstinence-only education is not just ineffective, but it’s been associated with worse health outcomes, in part because it deprives people of an understanding of how to reduce their risk if they do choose to have sex. And without a nuanced approach to risk, abstinence-only messaging can inadvertently stigmatize anything less than 100 percent risk reduction. Americans have seen this unfold in real time over the past two months as pandemic shaming—the invective, online and in person, directed at those perceived as violating social-distancing rules—has become a national pastime.

As a person who is going a bit crazy panicking at the thought of coronavirus on my mail, or the person without a mask walking a dog four feet away from me instead of the recommended six, this really resonated with me. It’s pretty clear that we aren’t all going to stay at home forever. We need doctors like Marcus to give us guidance for returning to a safer type of normal. One that might allow for socially distanced picnics by Lake Michigan this summer even if it doesn’t allow for sell-out crowds at Cubs games until there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.