Joe Mathews: Are we supposed to visit grandma, or not?

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing's Medical Group out of Middletown, Pennsylvania, takes the blood pressure of a patient. Heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are three ailments that take a huge toll on the body as it ages. Photo by U.S. Air Force

From the pandemic to politics, heads are spinning in California amid a barrage of contradictory advice

When you don’t know what to believe, it’s probably just better to take care of yourself. That’s the conclusion that Zocalo commentator Joe Mathews has reached. He’s confused by the mixed messages he’s getting about COVID-19, racial injustice, his kids’ education and other issues. Are we supposed to stay home during the pandemic, or get out in the fresh air? Should we speak out about racial injustice, or stop talking about the cultures of others? It’s impossible to follow mixed messages, so Mathews says take a deep breath and do what you think is right.

All mixed up

By Joe Mathews

Our politics may be paranoid, our society paralyzed by pandemic, and our skies ablaze, but don’t fear! We Californians receive an avalanche of advice about how to behave in crisis. All we have to do is follow all of it. Easy-peasy, no? s

For starters, go outside. Avoid the indoors, because COVID spreads best in enclosed areas. The outdoors is good for your health.

Also, don’t go outside. Don’t you know there’s a pandemic on? Plus, you’ll just be breathing smoke. The outdoors now is bad for your health.

Instead, see family right now. Particularly if they are elderly or in a facility. Because loneliness is the biggest killer right now.

One caveat: don’t see your family. Public health officials say family gatherings are where the virus spreads. Haven’t you heard the latest PSAs? If you visit your grandmother, it’s murder.

Speaking of life-and-death, you shouldn’t call the cops unless you’re absolutely sure there’s an emergency; try to deescalate matters yourself. Cops carry dangerous biases, so your call puts vulnerable people at risk. 

Of course, you should call the cops. Violence and property crime are up. This is an armed society. If something suspicious occurs, a trained law enforcement professional—not you—should be the one responding. We already have too many vigilantes. Haven’t you seen the signs? “See something, say something.”

Speaking of say something: You must speak out. In this moment of reckoning, silence is complicity in injustice. Whistleblowers must call out wrongdoing. Whites must challenge racism. We need to hear from people of color, whose truths have too long been ignored. And mass protest is essential for change.

Still, don’t speak up. White people need to stop talking about the cultures and histories of others. People of color shouldn’t have to keep explaining themselves. And mass protest is dangerous in a pandemic.

In raising our voices, don’t attack people personally. We must focus on replacing systems of oppression, not individuals. That’s how you get unity, which is vital.

Never forget that this is about individual morality, not systems. When people say something wrong, call them out, make them accountable. If that’s divisive, so be it—unity is overrated.

Because this is a moment to choose sides and rally your base.

Because what better time to reach out to people who disagree with you.

In this pandemic, it’s essential that we trust our scientists. But we can’t trust our scientists, who are compromised by politics and corporations.

If you’re in a dense city, go somewhere with fewer people, and less COVID, especially if you’re in an at-risk category. That said, you shouldn’t move near wildlands—you’re just putting yourself near fire. Instead, embrace urban density!

Wherever you’re living, your kids need to be back in schools. Pediatricians say so. Kids are regressing educationally and socially at home. Kids who miss months of school end up less educated, less wealthy, and less healthy. You don’t want to shorten kids’ lives, do you?

But don’t sending kids back to school. Look at the outbreaks at universities that reopened. We must protect educators, who didn’t sign up for this. You don’t want to shorten teachers’ lives, do you?

Kids, you must step away from your screens—it’s terrible for your eyes, body, and mental health. Kids, you must spend more time with your teachers online—even if it means sitting in front of your screen for hours.

Remember, we’re all in this together.

Remember, keep your distance.

In unprecedented times, we must comply with these directives, to stop disease, prevent catastrophe, and provide justice. When you don’t follow all this guidance, you put everyone else at risk.

In unprecedented times, it’s impossible to comply with so many mixed messages. Whatever you do, you will be wrong. So prioritize taking care of yourself. All anyone can reasonably demand is that you do the best you can. 

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

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