From The Editor: Staying Safe Does Not Mean You’re Missing Out

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As human beings, we construct our own identities in relation to others. Sharing experiences and interacting with a community helps us define who we are as individuals, and the relationships we have with friends and family shape our lives and contribute to our sense of self.

We are nearing the five-month mark since the B.C government declared a public health emergency, banned large public gatherings, and strongly recommended that everyone stay home and socially distance from others.

Despite these persistent and clear warnings, news stories of outbreaks related to parties and social gatherings are becoming more common. Recent outbreaks in Kelowna were linked to parties thrown in hotel rooms, and last week more than 40 new cases were linked to private house parties in the lower mainland.

“The numbers of contacts related to that are in the 400 range so we do know that even though they may have been smaller individual parties, the overlapping groups meant that there’s a large number of people who were potentially exposed,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry at a routine press briefing on Aug. 6.

“That’s where we’re seeing the virus get a chance to transmit to potentially large numbers of people. Of the 1,500 and some people who are in quarantine right now because they’ve been exposed, a good proportion of them are related to those types of social settings.”

It’s both alarming and disappointing to read about these outbreaks directly linked to large gatherings. By now, the scientific consensus and government messaging couldn’t be more clear. Avoid large gatherings. Stay six feet apart. Wear a mask.

After months of this, how could there possibly be any plausible deniability? It has to be a conscious and deliberate choice to ignore these recommendations, a conscious and deliberate choice to put oneself and others at risk of contracting an illness which has killed thousands of people across this country. Data is showing that there is an increase in infections in people in their 20s, and theories about things like “lockdown fatigue” and invincibility complexes are being offered as explanations. Risky public gatherings, like the notorious drum circle on Third Beach, which drew a large crowd, are predominantly being attended by younger people.

So why is that? While it’s not discussed in the news as much, it’s possible that people in this age range are more susceptible to factors which pressure them to attend these types of gatherings. Lower rates of summer employment, a loss of our normal sense of time, and fear of missing out, or FOMO, could all be playing into this.

Most millennials will probably be familiar with the term FOMO, which refers to the social pressure and anxiety people can feel when they can’t take part in an activity with other people. Multiple studies suggest that experiencing FOMO is largely tied to frequent use of social media and is correlated with suffering from social anxiety, fatigue, depression, and even increased instances of alcohol-related harm in undergraduate students.

Since March, reports have indicated that people’s social media usage has been increasing over the course of the pandemic, especially in areas where public events were cancelled. Research has shown that people aged 18 to 29 are the largest demographic of social media users.

At these younger ages, people are still solidifying their identity, and relating to other people is important to that formative process. It’s understandable that staying socially isolated for extended periods of time can feel like it’s stifling that, even to the point where we lose our sense of self.

“Space, location, scale, and time are the undergirding of self-knowledge. Abandonment of rational thinking leads to a collapse in which fear and joy, ignorance and wisdom, all blow in the wind,” wrote acclaimed artist and activist Ai Weiwei in an essay translated for The Atlantic. The essay, originally titled “Time, Space, and the Virus” vividly articulates the way in which our perceptions of time and our self-identities are beginning to dissolve while we endure the disruption of ongoing global pandemic.

It’s natural for us to want to reclaim our freedom and live our lives the way we want, unbound by social distancing measures and public health restrictions. It’s natural for us to want to see our friends and spend time with people after isolating ourselves for so long. It’s not hard to understand how people would want to reclaim the feelings of control and normalcy that the pandemic has taken away from them.

But disregarding common sense and attending parties and events with scores of other people without socially distancing is taking that too far. As we’ve seen, these events provide ideal situations for new outbreaks, and these outbreaks can have far-reaching consequences which affect hundreds of people who were never even involved.

“Time is more than what passes between this moment and another one, or the price required to finish a task,” continues Weiwei.

“It spurs action and is bound up with how we press forward with life and with our resolve to make ourselves complete.”

It can be difficult to feel “complete” when so many things we once took for granted have changed, but we need to be patient and understand that returning to that sense of normalcy will take time.

“The flowers have never been more beautiful, and at night a curved moon still hangs in the sky. Spring does not slow its arrival just because no one can go out and look at it,” Weiwei writes.

There will be time to enjoy life again the way we once did. But that time is not now, and we have to be okay with that, for our safety and the safety of others. Forget the parties. Stay home.

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