Going to the grocery store in Massachusetts in 2020 guaranteed you would breathe heaps of sanitizer. A full-time employee scrubbed down shopping carts between customers. Conveyor belts at the checkout counter were blasted and wiped between every sale. Glass surfaces were sprayed as often as possible. The plastic keypads on credit machines were not only covered in plastic – why putting plastic on plastic stopped Covid was never clear – but also sprayed between uses.
Employees would carefully watch your hands to see what you touched, and as you exited the space would cover the area with cleaning spray.
It was the same at offices and schools. If a single person turned in a positive PCR test, the entire place had to be evacuated for a 48-hour fumigation. Everything had to be wiped, sprayed, and scrubbed, to get rid of the Covid that surely must be present in the bad place. The ritualistic cleaning took on a religious element, as if the temple must be purified of the devil before God could or would come back.
All of this stemmed from the belief that the germ lived on surfaces and in spaces, which in turn stemmed from a primitive intuition. You can’t see the virus so it really could be anywhere. The human imagination took over the rest.
I was in Hudson, New York, at a fancy breakfast house that had imposed random Covid protocols. It was cold outside but they wouldn’t let me sit inside, even though there were no government restrictions on doing so. I asked that masked-up twenty-something why. She said “Covid.”
“Do you really believe that there’s Covid inside that room?”
Subway cars were cleaned daily. Facebook routinely shut its offices for a full scrub. Mail was left to disinfect for days before being opened. Things went crazy: playgrounds removed nets from basketball hoops for fear that they carried Covid.
During the whole pathetic episode of last year, people turned wildly against physical things. No sharing of pencils at the schools that would open. No salt and pepper shakers at tables because surely that’s where Covid lives. No more physical menus. They were replaced by QR codes. Your phone probably has Covid too but at least only you touched it.
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