Masks and Mass Graves

July 4, 2020 by Jennifer Joy

I’m a New Yorker and I want to talk about the frustration many in our country feel about masks and “stay-at-home” orders.

First – I get it. I’m restless too. I’m lonely. I hate staying at home. I want to be out – going to plays and the gym and church. I would love to head to Coney Island on July 4th – with its silly rides and goofy hot-dog eating contest and colorful fireworks display. I want to see friends and enjoy the summer. 

 So I understand the frustration. 

Yet I am now living with a weight that I would wish on no one, a weight I will have to live with for the rest of my life… because I didn’t stay at home when I was first infected.

 It can take up to 2 weeks for symptoms to appear after infection. I got a fever on March 11. Before that, there were no stay-at-home orders and no mask requirements. As a country, only our public health officials knew what was about to hit us. And they were being silenced and censored.

In the last week of February, I went to JFK and flew to Phoenix for a 4-day seminar. After I returned, I lived my usual NYC life, bopping around the city happily. I went to at least 3 plays in very crowded theatres. I went to the gym numerous times (and was SO proud of myself for doing so). I rode on crowded buses and squeezed into packed subway cars. I saw friends in restaurants and clients in their workplaces.

Somewhere along the way, I got the virus. And I undoubtedly passed it to others. To whom did I give it? Someone who was immune-compromised? Someone who was older and in frail health? Someone who was neither of these, but who ended up in the hospital, just as I did?

 I could’ve given COVID to one of the 25,000 New Yorkers who died of it. I could be a link in a chain that led to someone being packed into a pine box and dropped into that mass grave.

 Sometimes it’s as though the stench of death is clinging to me. I know I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, much less kill anyone. I had no idea what was going on. There were no stay-at-home orders. There were no masking requirements. Still. I am likely part of the worst thing that ever happened to someone… to someone’s family… to our city.

 Those mass graves are horrifying. And not my fault. Still. I have to live with the knowledge that I may have helped to send someone there. 

 I know sometimes it’s hard to believe all the warnings. Truthfully, while public health officials are trying to keep us healthy and alive, they also need to acknowledge that they are asking extreme things of us. I live alone. I’m lonely and restless. I am so damn tired of staring at these same four walls. 

 Still. I wish I had been told to stay home starting February 25. I had absolutely no idea how easily I could get COVID. I had no idea how easily I could pass it on to someone else. I had no idea my city was heading towards breakdown, towards so much suffering and death, and finally, towards mass graves. I had no idea the role I was about to play in all of this.

 I wish I had known. I wish I had been forced to mask and stay at home. I wish, I wish, I wish… but there it is. My story can’t be changed now.

 But maybe yours still can.