Every conversation gets into assessing the risk

When I volunteered to give my first Chicago Greeter tour in four months, I didn’t know that I’d be taking out a Washington Post travel writer. After we met, she let me know that she was writing a story about the new normal of travel.

In between seeing Chicago’s first residential loft district and the murals on Wabash, she asked me questions. How did it feel to return to giving tours? How was it different from before? Did I feel safe? Would I volunteer for another tour soon?

The bottom line was assessing the risk. That seems to be a main topic in every conversation as Illinois waits in phase 4 for a coronavirus vaccine or an effective treatment.

Consider whether one needs to do it, not whether one wants to, was the advice in one article. The choice could be more nuanced, I think. If needing to do it were the basis for deciding, I’d be stuck in phase 1, going out only for groceries. Or maybe having them delivered, not going out at all.

A better criterion would be whether one can get the risk down to one’s comfort level. Absolute safety cannot be guaranteed in life.

I’ve been willing to walk and eat outside with one or two friends; eat indoors with neighbors and relatives; take the “L” and the bus; use the treadmill in my building’s fitness center; get a haircut; donate blood; and go to a Juneteenth march and rally, staying on the fringes.

I haven’t yet eaten indoors at a restaurant; met with more than two people at a time; or returned to volunteering for my church’s food ministry.

The out-of-town visitor asked me to dine with her and two of her friends. I wanted to but changed my mind. Eating with two people I didn’t know, and one I’d met just hours before, wasn’t worth the risk. An invitation from a friend I haven’t seen in months would be harder to turn down. So, there’s another criterion: how important is the activity to me?

I have friends who are more cautious than I am, unwilling to take public transportation or get together with anyone but family members. Some of them have underlying health conditions, and everyone has a different tolerance level.

But even for healthy folks, it’s not just our own risk that needs consideration. It’s other people’s. That is what the young people who are crowding into bars are forgetting — or are too selfish to care about.

“I don’t think it’s really fair to expect us who are low risk not to get together with other low-risk people,” a college student told a reporter investigating how college towns would keep the virus at bay when students return.

He was discounting that professors and campus staff aren’t necessarily low risk, and that students go home to see parents and older relatives. The student’s mother said that his behavior will prevent the family from visiting his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My main consideration has to be my 93-year-old mother. Outdoor visits were restored at her assisted living home a week ago. When I see her next Saturday, it will be outside, six feet apart, and masked. I feel satisfied that she’ll be safe.

For the foreseeable future, we’re going to be juggling — juggling the risk to ourselves, the risk to vulnerable others, and our human need to be with people. Applying the two criteria of how important the activity is to me, and whether the risk can be reduced to a tolerable level, I probably won’t go to a movie theater or dine indoors soon. I’ll gladly get together with friends outdoors.

After returning from that first Greeter tour, I signed up for another. The program later informed me that it would cancel the tour if the guest’s state remains on Chicago’s quarantine list. It feels good to have help with these risky decisions.



“We may not be fully on board with the Democratic agenda, but this is a one-issue election: Are you for Donald Trump, or are you for America?”
— Kristopher Purcell, 43 Alumni for Biden, a Republican anti-Trump organization


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  • I couldn't agree with you more. I weigh every decision and it's become just my way of life. I have definitely moved out of Phase 1 but don't eat inside restaurants and limit exposure to family. I still don't grocery shop (I've gotten spoiled by delivery or curbside pick-up) and haven't really shopped in any stores unless it's absolutely necessary. Until there is a vaccine I will carefully plan my moves in the safest way I know. And ALWAYS wear a mask. Good story.

  • Thanks, Teppi. I like how you put it — my way of life now.

  • Well written, Marianne, and well done. I go to one store for basics, one store for long-term stocking up, and one takeout restaurant. Period. I need my walks, but I can exercise inside, too. I find myself communicating with friends the way they reach out to me, whether it's a "real" letter, a phone call or a text. Seeing people on Zoom helps get things done, but it isn't a replacement for really seeing people. I have outgrown saying "I'm an introvert, I trained for this." Not this much.

  • We introverts may tolerate isolation better than extroverts, but humans aren't made for total solitary confinement. An introverted friend of mine said she is surprised by how much she misses her coworkers.

  • Yeah

  • We know so much more about this virus that it is somewhat comforting. I read recent articles from epidemiologists and they have provided better information for keeping safe. For instance, we were obsessive about surfaces or washing food from the grocery store. I worry less about touching an elevator button but we do wear masks and wash our hands a lot and avoid crowds. But we know now that you get it from people and it depends on the dosage and the duration of time that you spent with that person.

  • In reply to Al Hip:

    I agree, Al. It has removed some stress to know what precautions are worth focusing on.

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