Editorial: This unstructured life is getting away from us

Posted 11/13/20

Several years ago the clinical and medical worlds stopped labeling people ‘autistic’ and began labeling them with ‘autism spectrum disorder.’ The change signified a deeper …

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Editorial: This unstructured life is getting away from us


Several years ago the clinical and medical worlds stopped labeling people ‘autistic’ and began labeling them with ‘autism spectrum disorder.’ The change signified a deeper understanding of autism and the spectrum of abilities and behaviors within its population.

Perhaps the same should be considered for mask-wearing, as behaviors span a broad spectrum within the Rhode Island population.

There are two general environments for mask-wearing — structured and un-structured.

The structured environments include schools, nursing homes, medical offices and government buildings. For the past eight months, they have operated with strict rules, exceptionally high rates of compliance and relatively low rates of transmission.

Then there are unstructured environments, which are … well, everything else. In homes, parks, street corners, coffee shops (to some extent), bike paths and backyards, folks operate with almost no set rules. Mask-wearing is inconsistent, stable groups are constantly shifting and social distancing is mostly a novel concept.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has been focused on these unstructured environments for the past two weeks, as she’s been lecturing, advising and issuing executive orders to reign in Covid-friendly behaviors — meaning behaviors that are friendly to the spread of Covid.

The spectrum of behaviors often transcend the people themselves. It’s why a high school student wears a mask in school for seven hours a day, sanitizes or washes her hands 12 times, sprints around during her soccer practice while wearing a mask (structured environments) and then hangs maskless with a shifting groups of friends, goofing around, recording Tik Tok videos and sharing food together every evening (unstructured).

It’s why a grown adult wears a mask all day at the office, then gets together with his friends for a softball game while wearing no mask and sharing both space and equipment with others.

Speaking of softball, this past Saturday brought quite a scene to Colt State Park and the Bristol sports complex. Blessed with absurd temperatures in the 70s, people flocked outdoors and Colt was buzzing. Parking lots were full, people were everywhere, and the town’s sports facilities were mobbed.

While hundreds of people gathered for a very worthy fund-raising softball tournament (few masks), a group of young men played a game of full-court basketball (no masks), multiple clusters of people tailgated shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot (some masks), children climbed all over the playground, and the tennis courts were full. Left unstructured, the population went whacky — like it was 2019 or something.

We bring all this up because the Covid rates are soaring and Rhode Island is quickly sinking. This state leads New England and is climbing the ranks nationally for its rate of infection within the population.

The governor recently shined a searing spotlight on one Bristol family and a group of teenagers who were doing what most kids want to do, namely hang out and be silly, but truth be told, the number of people behaving at that end of the spectrum is much greater, broader and closer to home than most people choose to acknowledge.

Few among us are truly mask-compliant, living within a stable group and following all the protocols. Whether from Covid fatigue or a belief that the virus isn’t all that bad, it seems standards have relaxed and risky, unstructured behaviors are proliferating.

We want people to retain their civil rights, exercise their own independence and be free to make their own choices. On the other hand, we don’t want to get to a point where the governor takes this state backwards — schools closed, businesses shuttered, economic calamity once again.

For the sake of everyone around you, consider your unstructured behaviors. Manage your kids. Scold your friends. Act like your quality of life depends on it.

Because it does.

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.