It would feel so good to give up. To hug our friends, to visit our grandparents. To eat one meal, just one, at a restaurant table instead of on the couch, maybe even without the kids in tow. Even a mundane day of running errands—shopping, getting a haircut, going to the gym—would be glorious.
There’s no reward for abstaining from these things—just, hopefully, the absence of consequences. And lately, fewer rules are left to stop anyone, even as coronavirus case numbers in the United States surge. That means it’s on each of us to stop ourselves from doing unnecessary things that we know will put others at risk, even if those things are technically allowed. The fight to contain the coronavirus is far from over; it’s just entering a new phase in which individual choice matters more than ever.
The U.S. is in the swing of “reopening,” a word that can mean any number of things depending on where you live. Many states have allowed retail stores, restaurants, gyms, and salons to reopen for in-person service (many at reduced capacity), or are considering allowing them to do so in the near future. In some places, movie theaters and pools reopened to the public too.
In the pandemic’s early days in the U.S., health experts proclaimed the importance of social distancing, but individuals were largely on their own in figuring out how to apply that advice to their daily life. Then lawmakers began taking responsibility for shaping Americans’ behavior. The orders that many state and local governments started issuing in March and April—to just stay home, as much as you possibly could—may have been burdensome to follow, but at least they were simple.