Friday, April 16, 2021
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When Will You Feel Comfortable to Reengage?

Adults and a child wearing face coverings while seated in a theater

Now that spring is in the air, and with it that natural feeling of hope and renewal, perhaps you have pondered the possibility of reengaging in your more “normal” activities.  “Normally” you might be attending a play, a concert, a worship service, a movie, a fundraising event or maybe dancing to a live local band. 

The question I have for you is this: When in person audiences return to full capacity, will you be ready to join in?

In his recent New York Times column, “I Miss Being Part of an Audience” writer Jason Zinoman talks about how much he misses a live theater audience.“[T]hat feeling of losing yourself as you experience art together hasn’t been replicated since live entertainment went online.”

As states across the country slowly but surely allow more spectators to attend both indoor and outdoor activities, have you asked yourself when will you feel comfortable to engage? What criteria will you be using?  

Some people believe it will be a long time before the masses will be OK with sitting in a crowded movie theatre, concert hall, or sports venue. Others insist that people are so ready to bust loose from COVID cabin fever that they are ready, willing and able to take a bit of a chance just to start feeling more alive again.  

Personally, I am ready to reengage as soon as possible. But that’s me. I feel healthy enough to get back at it by following the guidelines, so I am being respectful of others, but also so we can kickstart the economy and get on with life. I think the science is showing that the mental anguish of COVID cabin fever is starting to take a heavy toll and it’s important that we keep making progress in incrementally opening up society.

How will you decide when you are ready to get back in the pool, so to speak? Will it make a difference to you if it’s an indoor or outdoor activity? Will it make you feel better knowing you and many others will have been vaccinated over the next few months? Will you consider reengaging in social activities as long as masking protocols and some physical distancing measures remain in place?

Let’s assume it’s mid-June and there are two scenarios:

Scenario one: The pandemic has essentially come to an end with the vast majority of the country vaccinated.

Scenario two: Despite our efforts and the reports that herd immunity has essentially been obtained, many still remain unvaccinated, or the virus has mutated enough that the vaccines are less effective than we’d hoped.

Think about each scenario and ask yourself, “What will it really take for me to feel comfortable to reengage?” I anticipate additional debates, some of the highly emotional brand, to rise between groups depending on your point of view. Let’s assume you fall into one of the four groups listed below:

1). You are champing at the bit and ready to personally take the risk. 

2). You are champing at the bit but subscribe to the “you-go-first” philosophy and will wait a little to see if there are immediate resulting spikes in the numbers. 

3). You are risk-averse and want to wait until there is more solid evidence that the virus is under control. 

4). You have decided large gatherings are simply not in your future, perhaps ever again.

No judgements here. There are likely to be some of you in every category. For those in groups 1 and 2, you must consider how your decisions impact those less willing to reengage and not just throw caution to the wind but follow the guidelines to be respectful to all. For those of you in categories 3 and 4, you must be respectful that there are people with a different philosophy than you and do your best to allow an “opening up” strategy in a planned and incremental way. All four groups must practice common courtesy and mutual respect.

Another decision you may have to face is the timing. If you are fully vaccinated will you feel 100% confident to go about living your “normal” lifestyle, going out anytime and anywhere, to do what you used to do for social interaction? Will you venture out more but be more conscious of where you go and the environment? Will you continue to go out infrequently and only as necessary for the basics like groceries, doctors’ visits, and on outdoor walks fully masked and practicing physical distancing? Will you stay in, only order delivery and have groceries delivered?

Some things I think I think, until proven otherwise: Viruses have always been, still are, and will always be a part of our lives. We’ve only ever fully eradicated one disease (smallpox) to date. We have mitigated the effects of many viruses and we have diminished the risks as we have learned more about them and have developed vaccines and treatments to deal with them. But people continue to get sick and even die from different forms of influenza. At some point we have to get on with life. I am hoping we are close and that when the next pandemic strikes — and there will be more — we will have learned from our mishandling of many aspects of COVID-19 and be better prepared to do what it takes to deal with it more effectively.

In the end viruses are not likely to go away anytime soon. So ask yourself, what is safe, prudent and reasonable? What variables exist that you need to consider and what control do you have to mitigate the negatives?

As I said before, personally I am ready to reengage as soon as possible. I will continue to mask up as much for others who are not as comfortable as me so we can encourage them to give it a try when ready.  

What we can’t do is suddenly believe everything is just fine and be completely cavalier with how we go forward. Accept the fact that in this country we will likely be wearing masks for the foreseeable future not because we are mandated to do so, but because we have learned to accept them as an individual’s responsibility to protect others. Not everyone will participate in this way of thinking and that is OK.

Assuming you don’t have preexisting conditions and are not in one of the higher at-risk groups, I would strongly encourage you to begin implementing your own reengagement strategy. I hope that those of you who feel comfortable will err on the side of reengaging with social activities as soon as possible.  Your own mental health and financial well-being, as well as those of millions of others, may depend on it.

Jason Zinoman concludes his column with this statement that I would bet resonates with many: “I am not quite ready to join in. But in a time of isolation and alienation, it’s clear we need the crowd more than ever.”