The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Leaving the COVID Bubble and Re-Entering Civil Society

How do we emerge from a self-imposed state of exile?


For some people, 2020 were not much different than 2019. They traveled wherever they wanted. They shopped in any store. They ate in any restaurant. And so on. Indeed, some jurisdictions never enforced mask mandates. I was not one of those people. Last March, my world ground to a halt. Over the past 13 months, I haven't left Houston. I have not travelled more than 60 miles from my house. (The prior year I flew about 100,000 miles on United.) I stopped going to any stores. (Door Dash and other apps made visits to grocery stores obsolete). I haven't eaten at a restaurant, indoor our outdoors. I have relied entirely on delivery and curbside pickup. I haven't had a meal in anyone else's home either. With the exception of doctor and dentist appointments, I haven't spent any considerable times indoors. I've done some outdoor activities, like going to the Zoo. But even then, I was masked and avoided crowded spots. And so on. I've been as careful as possible to protect myself and those in my household.

But soon enough, I will be fully vaccinated. On May 1, I will be two weeks removed from my second Pfizer shot. And all of the other adults in my house will also be fully vaccinated. With the new CDC guidance, a brave new world awaits me. At that point, I will face a choice that I am still grappling with: how to re-enter civil society.

I worry about walking into a restaurant, taking my mask off, and eating. It was something I have done thousands of times before, and seemed so natural. Now, I simply don't see the need to eat out. Why risk it, I think? I dread the prospect of getting on a plane, only to have the person in the middle seat wear his mask falling below his nose for three hours. And I still have that dread even though the circulation of air on airplanes is better than any place on terra firma. And what about hopping in an uber or a taxi? Do I keep the window open while driving on the highway? I worry about speaking in a classroom, where students may not be properly masked. Can I get a meal with students, like I would any other semester? And so on.

I have lots of these worries. And I am not sure the best way to address them. Do I go cold turkey, and jump back into society? I do need to book a mileage run to Singapore to maintain my airline status. Or do I take baby steps? I've considered ordering an Uber ride around the block as a trial run. (Yes, I have). I've also considered buying a points ticket, going through security at the airport, then cancelling the ticket, and going home. (That option would only cost a few dollars to cancel). I'm sure there are other people reading this that have had similar thoughts. Or, perhaps, all Volokh readers are heartier than me, and are ready to roll with their jabs.

By the fall, I plan to be back to some semblance of normalcy. I may even get a haircut. I don't quite know how I'll get there. But I'll make it work.