Today I found myself explaining to a friend my decision not to meet her for a few weeks. I didn’t sound rational even to myself. Why would I meet other friends and not her? Because her health is fragile — and daily cases of Covid-19 have rocketed from a handful to almost 15,000 — and maybe my common sense is kicking in.
It’s a strange old time in Aotearoa.
For two years we kept Covid-19 under control with some of the most successful policies in the world. Result: the vast majority of Kiwis have complied with controls and mandates without ever knowing anyone personally who was hospitalized or killed by the coronavirus. Our pandemic was not your pandemic. So February’s turnaround has seemed pretty strange.
- Now, just when the rest of the world is watching Covid-19 retreat, we’ve finally and suddenly lost control as omicron enters the country and spreads exponentially.
- Just as we are named the “freest country in the world,” a couple of thousand Kiwis vent their frustration with constraints and desecrate the capital city, aggressively demanding “freedom.”
Thank heavens for our politicians
They are heroes. Not a popular opinion or a common one, I know. But imagine consenting, even choosing to be responsible for making decisions on behalf of all citizens at such a time: the strong and the vulnerable, law-abiding and feral, frail and healthy, old and young, wellness extremists and epidemiologists, students and truck drivers, farmers and police and baristas and bus drivers, tourists and businesses and hospitals, the incarcerated and the homeless, citizens at home and abroad, anarchists and far right terrorists and nice old ladies like me. Imagine doing this in the face of relentless, monumental uncertainty and an unpredictable novel coronavirus.
They obviously can’t please everyone. [Stop it, Rachel. Stop now.]
Making personal decisions when omicron is about
Anyway. Deep breath. We still have rules about getting tested and self-isolating, though they’re impossible to enforce consistently. (How do I know I’ve got Covid-19 without a test which is only available if I’ve got symptoms or… How do you self-isolate at home if there’s only one bathroom for five people? That sort of thing.)
Some decisions are out of my hands. I love that. Just tell me what to do! My three gigs in March and April have been cancelled and our dance group has stopped rehearsing for 3 weeks. OK, fine.
However, like everyone else I have to make many personal decisions about how much risk to take. Will I join a Covid-riddled student party and spit on police officers? I don’t think so. Will I hide at home and slam the door? That won’t do either.
Irrational decisions about catching and spreading Covid-19
We’re told the omicron surge may peak within 2 or 3 weeks. I notice that my decisions are irrational and inconsistent. That’s fair enough, because the situation changes day by day. Week by week, they make a certain sense to me. I’ll do something that’s a bit unwise, then I’ll decide not to repeat it for a few weeks. Some examples:
- I’m still going to Pilates classes at our gym, which has lots of open windows. But I cancelled Active Stretch class today because we puff more, so more aerosols. For the same reason I think I’m done with Pump until after the wave passes.
- I’m doing choir by Facebook: they are rehearsing in masks and live streaming so I can sing along.
- Last weekend I had coffee on a park bench with a friend but I’ll skip our neighbourhood dinner this Sunday (10-14 people indoors).
- A week ago I went to an indoor theatre-at-home solo show (loved!) but then decided, that’s the last time for a while.
Decision making: values, practicalities, emotions, personality and logic
How do we make decisions in this situation? Theories vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here’s a rough and ready subjective analysis of the process, as observed in a solitary case study — me.
- Certain values rear their heads and duke it out with each other. Concern for others. Respect for science. Law and order. Social justice. Community strength. Self-preservation.
- Then there are practicalities: “But how?” is the overriding question.
- Emotions: ignore them, deny them, disown them if you like — but they may well be in charge of all decisions, especially these.
- Personality: I’m always me, you’re always you. We’ll always tackle problems differently.
- Logic takes us only so far in a situation like this. Practicalities often take precedence.