Walks around my neighborhood are keeping me sane right now

As we settle into our second stay-at-home order in the Bay Area, I’ll be honest: it’s a bit of a struggle to offer new words of guidance, comfort, or advice. No one needs to be reminded of how hard a time this is — we’re all living it. Many of us had to make tough phone calls to loved ones to let them know we wouldn’t be gathering for Thanksgiving. And we’ll have to do it again for Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years.

The unusual holiday season, of course, is piling on top of the many reasons folks are struggling right now. With unemployment rates and business closures still very high, people in our communities are fighting to pay rent and mortgages, to feed their families, and generally make ends meet. And with COVID-19 infection rates rising, we are losing too many people to this horrible virus.

With the rapid surge of infections and the diminishing capacity of our ICUs, our counties made the very difficult decision to return to a stay-at-home order. You can read more about what’s allowed and what’s not here. (TLDR; don’t gather with anyone outside of your household, stay home when you can, and no more outdoor dining for the time being.)

It’s going to be tough to get through the next couple of months. But I have faith that we can do this. After all, we did it before and we made it — and that was when there was no vaccine on the horizon.

We need to hang in there in the meantime, and try to stay as safe as possible. Our community has already done an excellent job beating back the virus — we’ve had much better health outcomes than most of the country. That’s because of your sacrifices and hard work.

And to be clear, everything about 2020 has been hard work: it’s hard work to make ends meet right now with a rapidly shifting economic landscape and little help from the federal government as we’re expected to stay home and close businesses. It’s hard work not to see family and friends, to be stuck at home without access to some of the things that normally bring us joy. It’s hard work to face down so much uncertainty and still persevere.

I personally believe in a “harm reduction” model, which is the framework many public health experts use when it comes to realistically keeping the public as safe as possible — given risks that people are likely to take — from health threats. What does harm reduction look like when it comes to COVID-19?

  • Don’t blame and shame. Rather than shaming people who are breaking the rules, model good behavior and kindly remind them of ways to do things more safely: wear masks, socially distance, favor outdoor activities over indoors when someone has decided to be with others. It’s an adjustment for everyone, even many months into this pandemic. Did some of your family get together inside for Thanksgiving? Are they planning on doing the same for Christmas? Instead of shaming them, remind them about the new stay-at-home order and suggest masking and being outdoors if they choose to move forward with a gathering despite public health orders.
  • Enjoy the things you CAN do that are mostly safe (although few things are entirely without risk): go on walks and enjoy the outdoors (parks and beaches are still open and playgrounds are reopening), get some exercise at home or outdoors, get takeout from local businesses and enjoy food at home with members of your household. Yes, we all have Zoom fatigue. I get it. I do as well. But I’ve had some fun game nights on Zoom with friends. Virtual get-togethers are better than none at all, and you can reminisce about all the fun times you had on Zoom together in March and April…
  • Set boundaries! You can’t force anyone who is not you to behave differently. You only have a say over yourself and what your needs and boundaries are. Make your boundaries clear and set a good example, even if others aren’t able or willing to do the same.
  • Limit your time doing high-risk activities. We’re all going to need to go grocery shopping, get dental procedures, go to the post office, etc. But it’s important to limit your time in higher-risk spaces (i.e. indoor spaces). For those over 60, if at all possible, these activities should be avoided until you are vaccinated. For those under 60, send one person in your household to the grocery store, instead of two. Bring a list with you and try to get things done efficiently.

We are getting closer to this nightmare being behind us. So hang in there and stay as safe as possible. This community’s response to the pandemic continues to inspire me, and I know we will come out of this pandemic stronger than when we went in — with a commitment to build a better healthcare system and to address the massive inequities the pandemic has exposed.

As always, my office is here to answer any of your questions and provide support or help, whether around unemployment benefits, possible eviction, food benefits, or other needs.