Recently, Gov. Gary Herbert moved most of Utah from the moderate risk “orange phase” into low risk “yellow phase,” in consultation with the coronavirus task force. Oh, what a difference a day makes. Signs everywhere announced that restaurants would now have indoor seating, stores and gyms are reopening, tennis courts are full and life is looking more “normal” than it has in months. And those of us who are low risk are breathing a sigh of relief.
But what about the vulnerable among us? If you are over 65, have an underlying health condition like asthma, diabetes, obesity, are immunocompromised or live with someone who fits in this category, then this shift may actually make life a little harder if your community thinks yellow for one is yellow for all.
At the Utah Women & Leadership Project, we invest our energies in seeing how we can better advocate for women and girls, and believe in using this same approach for the Utahns who are particularly vulnerable in this pandemic. What, then, can we do?
Wear a mask. The research is confusing, we know. First, we were told it did not help and now people are being asked to wear them. Costco won’t even let you in without one. So what’s the deal? The consensus is that unless you are wearing the coveted n95 variety, then it does little to protect the wearer. But here’s where it’s not about you: wearing a mask protects the people around you. And most of us cannot say with certainty if we have it or not because up to 50% of cases are asymptomatic. A friend of mine lives with her 87-year-old grandmother and decided to get tested, just to be safe. She was positive and never developed any symptoms. My friend is fine now, and though most likely immune, she still wears a mask in solidarity because she feels it is both respectful and socially responsible.
Continue to respect the 6-foot buffer zone. Again, we don’t know who may be contagious, nor do we always know who is vulnerable. If you are buying groceries and need yeast (which isn’t there, by the way) and someone is also checking out that shelf, just wait. If you are walking and see neighbors on their lawn, chat from the sidewalk. Think twice about having your whole congregation over for a party. Assume people want a buffer zone until signaled otherwise. Until there’s a vaccine or we acquire herd immunity, any socialization will involve risk. But all risk is not equal.
As the state shifts from orange to yellow (and hopefully to green soon), we need to remember that many individuals cannot participate in the more relaxed rules. Just because we believe we are not vulnerable does not mean we don’t have a moral and social obligation to continue to protect those around us. So wear a mask, respect people’s space and let’s all try not to judge each other for being in different phases. Remember that everyone deserves to feel normal, not just the yellows.
Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.