Shielding in the wild and the strain of micro-decisions

For an ‘ex-shielder’, the months of April and September feel a bit like chalk and cheese. Back in the Spring I was washing my hands after touching every piece of mail; now I’m picking Tiny and Small up from school amidst a crowd of swarming mask-refuseniks. I find myself wondering whether it was worth keeping the family in for three months during lockdown now that we are out in the wild… However, that way madness lies, so I’m trying not to dwell on it!

As Covid cases begin to rise rapidly, the difference between life now and during the spring/summer lockdown feels seriously strange. I am struggling to figure out how I should run life at the moment. While I’m not afraid of Covid-19, it is always rumbling away in the background. As I’ve talked about before, shielding was very tricky, but there was a simplicity in following someone else’s rules. Now, it feels a bit arbitrary exercising caution in my social life when the other three members of my household are hanging out all day at school. These new choices about personal risk and responsibility are pretty draining – deciding whether to get on a bus now involves a micro-risk assessment!

I’ve noticed that the shielding group seems to have been largely dropped from the Covid narrative. In the news and Government briefings there is the odd reference to ‘vulnerable groups’, but the distinction now being drawn is much more to do with age. The current messaging seems to be around trying to prevent young people spreading the disease to the elderly. I did a quick Google to see if I’m listening in the wrong places, but my search returned very little current news or editorial comment about the 2.2 million people who were asked to shield. I don’t know the reason for this shift in message, but my guess would be that shielding was not and is not a viable long-term solution. It’s much more convenient now to diffuse this group back into the rest of the population as it makes messaging around rules and recommendations simpler. And I would guess, encouraging those who were shielding to act as normally as possible keeps the economy ticking over that bit more.

Let me be clear, it’s not that I want shielders to get special attention for the sake of it, but I do feel the Government is missing an opportunity to remind people why social distancing measures are so important. By phasing out the idea that younger people can be vulnerable too, it erodes the understanding that our personal actions have a wider impact. It’s not just about avoiding seeing your gran. We need to all be aware that any person we meet might have a less-than-perfect immune system, or live with someone who does. And if that causes us to be a bit more cautious, that’s got to be good.

If we all make sensible choices, we will not only reduce the spread of Covid, but reduce the burden of difficult choices on those who are now silently shielding. Little actions like popping on a face mask at the school gate will make the big wide world feel just a little bit safer.

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