Across the US, cities and states are rationalizing the threats and impacts of Covid-19 quite differently. Having lived in northern Wisconsin for most of the pandemic, an area with considerable resistance to Covid-19 public health safety measures, life hasn’t felt drastically different for me. While I chose to wear my mask at indoor public spaces like the grocery store, the option for normalcy was always there. Living out in the woods meant that I could walk my dog every day, go to a neighbor’s for dinner, and go about most of my daily activities without having to confront or even really acknowledge the existence of this pandemic. My geographical and emotional distance from Covid-19 made it easy to put on a mask while running small, infrequent errands in town, and even easier to criticize people in large cities for feeling fatigued by pandemic precautions, despite their far more restrictive daily realities. I didn’t realize the kind of mental safety net that life in an area with vibrant restaurant, tourist, and outdoor recreation scenes and optional mask policies provided. What an odd luxury to live in a place where you can choose your own pandemic reality, from adopting full-scale precautionary measures to complete denial.
I say all of this now, in retrospect, as I approach the end of my first month living in Washington, DC. In DC, masks are required for everyone, everywhere – indoors and out. As someone who stood out for wearing a mask in the politically conservative, freedom-loving North Woods of Wisconsin, the mask mandate in DC has largely been a relief. Here, masks carry no political significance and cannot be manipulated as a form of social othering. Transitioning from a secluded cabin in the woods to a central downtown apartment, I am seeing for the first time, firsthand how important Covid-19 safety mandates are in a crowded and highly transient city. While my risk for contracting Covid-19 may be higher here, I don’t feel more fearful because I see how seriously the local government, businesses, and residents are taking it.
Yet, I must admit, I have only been here for a month, and I am already feeling the Covid fatigue. My studio apartment is my home, my office, my gym, and the only place that I can technically be without a mask. It feels quite odd that this one relatively small space is my greatest source of freedom and containment. There comes a time each workday when I feel so boxed in that if I don’t get outside, I might just lose it. But then it hits me: its 95°F, unforgivingly sunny, and extremely humid outside. As a lover of the sun, fresh air, and aimlessly exploring my surroundings, I have been annoyed to find that most days, staying in and looking out my windows feels freer than walking around the city in a mask. While this move has been a big adjustment with many uncertainties, I at least feel fully reassured that upgrading to the unit with floor to ceiling windows was a good call.