At a conference in Belgium this week, Steve Jones posted a video:
— way0utwest ?? (He/Him/His) (@way0utwest) October 11, 2021
My first reaction was, “That’s an awful lot of people in really close proximity, talking loudly at each other, and none of them are wearing masks.”
And then I saw the finger food. No sneeze guards. Just get your dirty fingers in there and serve yourself.
I feel sick to my stomach just watching that. I’m not ready for that.
Let’s set aside any discussion of this specific conference. The organizers chose to do what they chose to do, and I’m not here to say whether that’s right or wrong. I don’t want to turn this into any blame about the organizers or the attendees. I only want to have a discussion about my own personal readiness for conferences right now, and the kinds of precautions I’d want organizers to take before I’d attend.
A mask is like a seat belt.
When you get behind the wheel of a car, you put your seat belt on. Years ago, seat belts were controversial, but today, we just accept it as the right thing to do for ourselves and our loved ones, and we buckle up. It’s a quick, easy, harmless measure for most people to do, and it’s a litmus test for whether someone should really be behind the wheel of a car.
Similarly, because wearing a mask indoors is so easy and harmless for most people, I get nervous when people won’t do it. I start to question their judgment about other less easy-to-see things, like whether they washed their hands, avoided shaking hands with people, and whether they’d stay home if they had COVID symptoms. I hate to say this, but I even question whether or not they’re telling the truth when they say they’re vaccinated or already had COVID.
Now, don’t get offended: I’m not talking about you, dear reader.
You and I have years of history and friendship. When it comes to masks, I know that you know that I have asthma, and my health is already at risk. I’m doing the best I can to protect myself, of course – I wear a mask, wash my hands, and I’m vaccinated twice over with both Pfizer and Moderna. However, that still isn’t a bulletproof defense: vaccines aren’t 100% effective, and there are plenty of examples of breakthrough cases. I know that you and I have a good understanding that if I saw you, and you weren’t wearing a mask, and you told me you had a medical reason not to wear a mask, I’d probably give you a pass because I’d just be so excited to see you. It’s been so long, hasn’t it? Come on over here and give me a hug, you big lug.
A stranger who won’t wear a seat belt
makes me nervous.
I’m not talking about you – I’m talking about strangers and the people that I don’t know as well. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones who make incredibly bad decisions with their databases every single day. They only run CHECKDB once a week, but they’re deleting log backups older than 24 hours. They don’t even understand the process of how to recover from corruption, let alone rehearse it on a regular basis. They’re running around without scissors every day.
It’s bad enough that they take database risks, but if a stranger takes a risk with my health, I start to get really nervous. I don’t want to go near them, but people will default to getting close to each other. Event organizers probably aren’t going to say, “You need to distance by default, and only go closer to people when they have verbally invited you to get within a meter of them.” They’re going to assume consent – which is an awfully odd default in the day and age when we’re trying to get people to understand that consent is not the default answer: you have to ask for consent first.
And of course, those people are the ones breathing on the finger food. Coughing on the finger food. Plucking one of the finger foods with their unwashed hands, and moving the food around.
A room full of them?
Forget it. I’m out.
When I see a roomful of strangers meeting each other for the first time, and they’re taking good precautions like wearing masks and socially distancing, I get excited. I’m much more confident that they’re making good decisions, and that they’ve also washed their hands, avoided handshakes, and got plenty of antibodies running through their veins. I know they’re not only doing their part for themselves, but for others as well.
But on the other hand, when I see that video at the start of the post – a roomful of strangers indoors, networking closely with each other, eating finger food out on public display with no sneeze guard, not wearing masks….
As much as it pains me to say it, I can’t go into that room. I would do a U-turn and leave immediately.
Because they’re strangers, I can’t trust their judgment. They might have taken every precaution – but I’m just not comfortable making that assumption.
If you’re okay with it,
that’s fine. I respect you.
You, dear reader, are well-qualified to make your own judgments about your health, my health, and the health of those around you. You’ve done your own research, and I respect that you’re making well-informed decisions based on science, not feelings. You’re not just going to a conference maskless because you’re desperate to recreate 2019 – you’re going to a conference maskless because you believe it’s the right thing for you, your family, and those around you.
Again, I’m not talking about you.
I’m talking about the roomful of maskless strangers.
They’re the reason why I’m not ready to go to in-person conferences yet, even though I’m vaccinated, and even though I’m wearing a mask.
How about you? Are you ready to go back to a conference that doesn’t require masks, doesn’t default to social distancing, and serves food the same way we did before the pandemic?