Living Through the Virus Crisis
Living Through the Virus Crisis
We aren’t talking solely about ride safety any more, there’s more. Ride anyway? Let’s think about it.
The club has shut down its rides until at least April 6. Governor Baker has set that date for a re-think. Though the risk of infection in recreational riding is low, given some simple precautions, I do think that it is reasonable to suspend the program as a sign of good faith to the communities where we ride. We could look resolute, but more importantly we also could look frivolous.
It is clear that the pandemic will not have reached its peak by April 6. The USA horribly blew it on containment measures, which have succeeded in South Korea, Japan and Singapore. According to the latest research, the stark choice now is of two-months-on, one-month-off stay-at-home social distancing over the next 18 months, the expected time until a vaccine can be distributed, or else millions of deaths in the USA alone.
Should you still ride on your own? For fun and fitness? Just to get out of the house? For local transportation? Is it safe? Is it social or anti-social?
Personal transportation, including riding one’s own bicycle for local trips carries way, way less risk of infection than public transportation or ride sharing – Uber, Lyft or for that matter, bike share or scooter share. Accordingly, bicycle use has increased in New York City and probably elsewhere. I have an entertaining story from a friend in North Carolina about how he avoided the crowd when he went shopping for food:
I rode my bike to Trader's Joe’s at 8 am opening time for a grocery get and the lines waiting to get in were incredible. Employees were telling people not to panic.
I realized everyone was waiting for a cart so I zipped in with my bag and backpack, and quickly got what I needed. Two checkers were talking to each other waiting for the onslaught of cart crazies. I "screamed" to them in a low but panicky voice while shaking, "Where's the chocolate!!!!!!"
They thought I was freaking out, and I had to tell them I was just goofing.
You can also usually park your bicycle near the door, and not have to walk from a distant corner of the parking lot.
I am wondering though whether I want to go inside a store at all. As I write this on March 18, there are 6 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Waltham, where I live, and the number of asymptomatic infected people is probably ten times that number. It could be much higher yet when this article appears in WheelPeople. Americans have a habit of pawing over a shelf of fruits and vegetables to identify and take the nicest ones. How many people’s purchases have passed through the gloved hands of the cashier? How many fingers have touched the touchscreen in the self-checkout?
I suppose that you could address that issue by carrying a bottle of an antimicrobial spray, if you can still find one, or of hard liquor in a spray bottle if you can’t. In China now, food is delivered to the doorstep.
Some stores and restaurants are making deliveries or have special early hours for elderly people, who are at highest risk. That is good, but I still think that it will be wise to disinfect packages and cook all unpackaged foods.
A cargo bicycle, ordered before the crisis came to a head, arrived at my home a couple of days ago. I felt for the UPS driver, who told me that he had no choice but to work. His is an essential service and he has himself and maybe a family to support.
There are things we too can contribute in our communities. Many people are making food purchases for others who can’t get out, or phoning up vulnerable members of their circle of friends or faith community. The cargo bike could see some good use.
You want to go on longer rides? The CRW route library is available. But, how do you rate the benefits against the risks and costs of a potential crash -- to yourself, companions who help, emergency medical services and hospitals?
Well, I’m still riding. It is a way to get out of the house for fresh air and exercise. And bicycling has always cleared my mind. A couple of days ago, I rode out to Weston and then out to Wayland and back on the new rail trail. A few people were standing at social distance and talking or walking along the trail. Parents with young children were out on their bicycles. Trees had not yet begun to bud out, but from one pond along the route, a chorus of spring peepers arose, and from several other ponds, what you might first think is impossibly many ducks quacking – wood frogs. Life goes on.
Now parents are working from home, and children are out of school. They weave and wander, the trail is crowded and you may want to avoid it at peak hours. Traffic on the streets, on the other hand, is light.
You are probably going to get hungry during a long ride. Forays into convenience stores are best avoided. Dried foods pack a lot of calories -- dried fruit, nuts, Fig Newtons. I pack a water bottle full of salted cashews for longer rides.
But, if you crash when medical services are overwhelmed, there won’t be a prompt ambulance ride, a bed in the emergency room for you, or any certainty that you won’t catch the infection if you are admitted there.
Most who catch the disease recover. It isn’t known yet whether recovery brings lasting immunity, but temporary immunity is probable, so people who have recovered might move about freely and assist others. I eagerly await an answer to this question, not that I eagerly await what I might have to go through to be one of those people.
Our Safety Committee from a few years back ended every Safety Corner message with a question: “Safety is about choices. What choices will you make?”
That is as true now as ever, and the choices are new and difficult. Walking is exercise too – my wife’s choice. I haven’t stopped riding – yet – but that may change.
Safety is about choices. What choices will you make?
John Allen is the CRW Safety Coordinator