Masked Stop & Shop Customers

Mask-wearing customers exit Stop & Shop in Falmouth.

No shirt, no shoes, no service.

Those signs have been a staple in establishments for years and to my knowledge are widely accepted. Now, add a face covering and one-way directions for aisles in that same store to mitigate spreading of a virus during a pandemic and all of a sudden, people are crying government overreach.

Maybe some folks have been holed up in their own little world so long that they really believe it revolves around them. No amount of evidence demonstrating that decreasing transmission of infectious respiratory droplets will convince them that the well-being of others is more important than their unencumbered access to grocery aisles.

So, I decided to conduct a social experiment and posed a radical idea on my Facebook profile.

My suggestion was for retailers to reserve the last two hours of specific days for those who have been offended by face coverings and one-way aisle policies. Those employees who think current protocols are overkill could be scheduled and additional self-checkouts added if needed. In return, customers would pay a convenience fee that would fund overnight fogging/deep cleaning. Opening hours the next morning would be reserved for the elderly and high-risk populations.

In addition, those who take advantage of those special face-covering-free hours would be required to provide contact information should they become ill and contact tracing needed to be implemented. While that might be seen as yet another infringement on personal liberties, no one has the “right” to enter a privately owned establishment in the first place. But it’s the price one would have to pay to express themselves and shop/work sans restrictions without jeopardizing those who want to protect themselves and others they encounter.

Most people were all for it.

A few friends who have expressed their displeasure with the current handling of the pandemic did not. But not one of them addressed that idea. Instead, they chose to continue on complaining about the policies and people who would follow along. Proof positive that you can provide a solution to a problem, but someone will find a problem with the solution.

The last few weeks have taught me a lot about the people I surround myself with and human nature in general. Some have surprised me. Some in good ways, others well, not so much. One would think that a virus that was threatening an entire generation of people over 60 and those with co-morbidity along with the economic vitality of the world would bring us together. Instead, I’ve witnessed more people doubling down on ideology. And it’s not coming from just one side of the political spectrum.

A very dear friend who experienced a life-changing, tragic loss shared this: “Teachable moments on empathy usually follow life experiences that are painful and give us a new lens to view this world in which we live.”

She’s right. And I can’t fathom how this isn’t a painful life experience for all. So maybe those who would fight these proactive measures have a different lens. Most likely a mirror in which they see themselves and those of us who they consider as sheep, living in fear. No adjustment will change that.

There is a saying about the importance of arguments and issues: “Do you really want to die on that hill?” The new question is, “Are you okay with others around you dying on that hill?” Apparently, the answer for some is yes.

Looking through my lens I see a big picture that is full of uncertainty and suffering. When I zoom in I see one person, my mom. She is extremely compromised and has not been able to have procedures and treatments she needs because this virus presents a greater risk factor. So, she waits. And the longer she waits the more compromised she becomes. Avoiding contact with anyone who might carry the virus is the only way to keep her safe.

The best way to do that is with face coverings. Research shows that a tremendous amount of viral shedding occurs when someone is pre-symptomatic. Asymptomatic carriers also spread the virus. In the Northeast we have a “suck it up and get the job done” mentality. We power through, even when we aren’t feeling well.

That moxie is why my mom has beaten the odds time and again, but it is also what is a threat to her well-being.

So, I’ll be damned if some jerk who sees these precautions as giving in to fear mongering is going to get her sick. We will continue to take precautions even when these recommendations are lifted. Not because we live in fear, but because we love. I’ll go without the hug I so desperately need from my mom to keep her safe. Because it’s not about me. It’s about her and everyone like her who needs us to keep them safe. Why can’t others get that?

Ms. Caristi writes a regular column for The Sandwich Enterprise, entitled The Observation Deck.

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