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Lithium Anonymous interviews: are your friends actually social distancing?

Oct. 29, 2020
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There have been a number of rude awakenings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps none more alarming than realizing that you can’t always have faith in your friends. In the “normal” world, it hurts when friends and family let you down; in the post-COVID world, it could be deadly. Below are transcripts of interviews I conducted with two Lithium staff members, who opened up about their experience of social distancing. 

INTERVIEW A

Age: 24

Location: Boulder, CO

Occupation: Retail manager

Can you give me a brief description of your pandemic experience?

I’m originally from Atlanta, GA, and I moved out to Boulder last summer because my partner is going to grad school [there]. I got furloughed from my retail job in March, and we were closed for about two and a half months. So for a while, I was basically just doing nothing. We’ve stayed home almost the whole time, besides running errands; I’m our designated grocery shopper, just because I’m already in contact with people due to my job. Toward the beginning of things, I really wasn’t leaving the house except to walk my dog, run, or go to the store. We try to go only once a week.

Since June, I’ve been back at work. For five days a week I’m in contact with the public, wearing masks and everything, but it’s definitely been an adjustment. There’s a little bit of ebb and flow with how it’s going, but I haven’t had anyone in my personal friend group get sick. A lot of my staff has gotten sick, because other than one person, all of them are in undergrad. I don’t think they’ve been doing what they’re supposed to do. I’ve also known friends of friends who have gotten sick. I have a friend whose boyfriend’s dad passed away from COVID.

Are you in a “COVID bubble” with friends or family members?

I live in an apartment with my partner, so we’re together. We’ve only had one couple over to our house, and that was as of a few days ago. We know they’re careful. But that’s the closest thing we have to a bubble. All of our family still lives back east. I think it would be different if we were still in Atlanta. Because I’m in contact with so many people at work, I feel like I’ve been extra cautious.

Has anyone you trusted violated COVID regulations? If so, how did they react to your disapproval?

We’ve had a couple people in our friend group be a little reckless with who they’re hanging out with and what they’re doing. It’s really uncomfortable. I think my partner has had a conversation with some of them about that. On my end, some of the people I work with aren’t being super cautious. Like, my boss has flown a couple times to go see family and friends, and then she had a fever when she came back to work. I had to have a really difficult conversation with her about that, and it’s different because she’s not a friend, she’s my boss.

Have you ended friendships or stopped talking to specific friends due to differing philosophies on social distancing?

I’ve definitely cut off that friend group that’s been reckless. A bunch of them went on a camping trip this weekend. I was working for most of it so I couldn’t have gone anyways, but my partner and I didn’t feel comfortable with him going because of how many people were invited. [The university near us] just put out a two-week stay-at-home order, and the city of Boulder put out an ordinance that 18 to 22-year-olds aren’t allowed to have social gatherings. And in the face of that people are still going on a big camping trip. When people aren’t listening to their university, or their state, it makes it even more uncomfortable to have those conversations as a friend. I’m still civil toward those people, I’m just not hanging out with them.

Some states are starting to reopen indoor dining and other activities that experts don’t consider safe. Technically, though, it’s not against the law. Do you have any friends who are participating in recent re-openings, and if so, how do you feel about it?

Not any close friends, but I’ve definitely seen acquaintances posting things like that on social media. It’s frustrating. I’ve unfollowed a couple people who I was already on the fringe of unfollowing. I’d feel uncomfortable messaging them about it, though. 

Colorado is still pretty far behind in terms of reopening, but I’ve seen some friends in Georgia who are like, “Okay, we have access to all these things. Let’s eat inside.” It’s upsetting, but thankfully none of my super close friends have been participating in that.

INTERVIEW B

Age: 16

Location: Westchester, NY

Occupation: High school student

Can you give me a brief description of your pandemic experience?

I was definitely lucky to be very bored in quarantine. I didn’t have much going on. School is better now because we didn’t use Zoom in the spring at all. They basically just gave us homework for stuff that we hadn’t learned yet, and then we would ask them questions, which didn’t make any sense.

I didn’t really do much over the summer, because the camp I was supposed to work at got canceled, and then I couldn’t find another job because everything was already taken. I don’t think I knew anyone who got really sick. I just found out the other day that my friend had it. She was like, “Oh, that was when I had corona.” And I was like, “When did you have corona?” And she said, “Oh, I had it for like six weeks.” I guess she was secretive about it. It’s funny, because everyone in my town would look down on you if you said you had it, but everyone’s still hanging out and having parties. It’s very hypocritical. Someone’s gonna get it, obviously.

Are you in a “COVID bubble” with friends or family members?

I would say I’m seeing a couple friends. I go to in-person school for half the day, but there’s only like three other kids in my classes.

Has anyone you trusted violated COVID regulations? If so, how did they react to your disapproval?

In the beginning, yeah. The way my town sees it now, though, is that quarantine’s over. Nobody’s doing bubbles anymore at all. So it’s hard when my parents are stricter than everyone else’s, because there are parties of 80 people going on, and I have friends who were at the party. It’s frustrating because I don’t want to stop hanging out with them, but I also can’t tell them what to do, so that’s a bummer. One of my best friends has a sister who has been violating every rule, but I can’t blame my friend for that. It’s irritating, though, because I don’t know where this little eighth grader’s been.

In the beginning I tried to tell people they were being irresponsible, but it didn’t do anything so I gave up. Like, I was at my friend’s pool and these two girls were talking about how crazy their summer’s been so far, and I was like, “How the hell has it been so crazy?” And they’re like, “Oh my God, we were out until five.” And I’m thinking, “How are your parents letting you do that? We’re still 16. I’d love to be out until five, but there’s a pandemic.” And they said, “Oh, we were at this party. It was just 80 people.” And I couldn’t swim away from them while they were talking to me, because I was already hanging out with them. It was an awful situation, and I just had to get used to it, because I still wanted to hang out with them but they weren’t going to stop.

Some states are starting to reopen indoor dining and other activities that experts don’t consider safe. Technically, though, it’s not against the law. Do you have any friends who are participating in recent re-openings, and if so, how do you feel about it?

A lot of my friends are eating inside. I’ve only eaten inside once, and that was because it was raining and I was seeing my grandparents, but my whole family felt very uncomfortable inside. I wanted to put my mask on any time there wasn’t a fork to my mouth.

Answers have been edited for clarity and/or brevity. 

Illustration by Damien Jeon