But we aren’t very good at discussing trade-offs. We want it all. We want to eat in restaurants, crowd into houses, go to work and celebrate occasions en masse.
We could choose to engage in just some of those things. We could decide to get a massage or get our nails done or have a haircut — instead of demanding that all of these and more be available to us simultaneously.
From a policy perspective, we’ve been just as unwilling to sacrifice. Almost everyone thinks that opening schools is extremely important (myself included). But too few people have been willing to discuss what we might be willing to shut down to make that happen. If we want to make it safer to send kids back to school, we might need to consider reducing the number of people who can drink in bars or eat in restaurants, for example.
Maybe, right now, we can’t have both schools and Disney World.
Of course, even if society can’t agree on which activities to prioritize, individuals can. We Carrolls haven’t seen most of our extended family in months. We’ve canceled a number of vacations big and small. When we eat with people who are not in our family, we do so outside in very small groups. My kids have been denied sleepovers and basketball games and hanging out in basements.
If Americans were willing to invest in bigger-picture solutions, we could all have nicer things. A vast testing program would require spending increases and many more public health personnel than we currently employ, but it could make many activities much safer. Providing more people with the means to stay home instead of going to their workplaces in person would significantly reduce close contact. Ubiquitous and affordable high-speed internet would make online education easier.
We all can’t live in bubbles like the one the N.B.A. created so it can finish the professional basketball season. But we could make use of the league’s testing methods. We could note its decision to hunker down and limit exposures. We could acknowledge that those involved felt the season was important enough to make personal sacrifices. I’m sure being paid millions of dollars made the decision easier, but many of us would be happy with more modest, less tangible rewards.
Instead of asking why we can’t do certain activities, we might consider what we’re willing to give up to do them more safely. Even better, we might even consider what we’re willing to give up so others can do them, too.
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