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Kai Wright: Hey, everybody. Winter's coming and we're all really getting quite anxious about what will happen with this pandemic and certainly here in New York, we're already seeing a spike in a lot of neighborhoods. This week's show is really an opportunity to just check in on that. We thought it was important to open the phones and hear from people and we got tons and tons of calls that we were not able to get to.
Here's another chance before you hear this, also, we want to invite you to send us a voice memo, just to tell us what you're doing, what you're dealing with around risk as we go into this winter, and what choices are you making? What challenges are you facing? Just record a voice memo and send it to email@example.com. Again, that's firstname.lastname@example.org, include your name and where you're calling from and we will use it in a subsequent episode. Thanks so much.
I'm Kai Wright and this is The United States of Anxiety. A show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.
Dr. Sean Conley: With him remaining the same or improving better yet, then we will all take that final, deep sigh of relief.
President Trump: I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your president.
Kamala Harris: Let's talk about caring about the American people. The American people have had to sacrifice far too much because of the incompetence of this administration.
Sen. Chris Coons: If it is not safe enough for us to go to the Senate to cast votes, it's not safe enough for us to proceed with a confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett.
Jaime Harrison: That's why I put this plexiglass up because it's not just about me.
Speaker 8: The amount of times I've heard the phrase "selfish" and "reckless" in the last few months is far more than I have ever heard in my entire life.
Kai: Fall has set in here in New York and it's brought a disorienting vibe to the city. An optimism that honestly feels more like spring than October; cafe tables in the middle of the street. People who have maybe not seen each other for months sharing meals. The other day I saw a group of socially-distanced middle-aged women dancing on the sidewalk to a DJ. There was literally an actual DJ booth set-up. It was great.
This weekend, I walked from MoMA down through Manhattan, all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge and I kept getting stopped by random masked strangers who just wanted to say something nice to me; compliment my sweater, ask if I need directions. One lady recommended a book. This is the stuff that some of us mean when we say I love New York. It's the stuff that makes this city feel so alive when the sun is shining and you can just roam the streets all day. It's like with winter coming, we are clinging to that feeling.
The most deadly month in American history was also in October in 1918 when the Spanish flu came roaring back in a second wave. Right now, much of the world is bracing itself for what COVID-19 might bring in its own second act. For some, the spectacle of the president's illness may have overshadowed the broader alarming developments of recent days, a record 1 million new infections globally over the past three days, more than 50,000 new cases recorded in the US just yesterday. Daily death totals are rising, not falling. In New York where the US epidemic erupted this spring, we've seen a scary, familiar spike in recorded cases in several neighborhoods.
Today's show is a check-in. We're going to look back at our short, devastating history with this virus and forward, as best as we can at what's coming. I'm joined by someone who has seen this epidemic from a unique vantage, Dr. Oxiris Barbot was New York City's health commissioner when COVID arrived and consumed our city. She left city government in August after a widely reported conflict with the police department and with some speculation that she'd been pushed out by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Dr. Barbot is a senior fellow for public health and social justice with the JPB Foundation now, and we'll hear from her about the early days of the pandemic in New York and we'll think together about both the history and the future of our country's public health in general. Dr. Barbot, thank you for making this time to join us.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot: Thank you, Kai. It's a pleasure to be with you
Kai: As they say, let's begin at the beginning, I guess. I want to say right off, obviously, the city's response to this crisis is going to be debated for a very long time. What I want to do for a few minutes here is not so much litigate that debate, is just try to glean whatever honest lessons we can from those early days because even after COVID-19, I can imagine that we are going to be facing these kinds of health crises for a while.
In that spirit, I want to try to get into your experience of those opening weeks of the crisis. I've seen elsewhere, you talked about February 2nd as a key moment when the first test arrived from the CDC and it didn't work. Can you take us back to early February? What did that feel like then? What did you know about-- what you thought the potential scope of this problem was going to be in New York?
Dr. Oxiris: I think that like many public health officials around the country, we had a sense that this was going to be a major event, but I don't think any of us had a sense of what magnitude and the early on, I recall waiting for that CDC test because we knew that even though most of the cases were being reported in China, that viruses don't respect borders and we wanted to make sure that we were recognizing and identifying as early as possible if anybody in New York City was positive for COVID.
Yes, when we got that test in the morning of the second, and by that night, my team had told me it's not working. It was a major gut punch because it was like we were going into war without our best weapons. The rest of the country was in the same situation. I think it took us back because it was something certainly that was unanticipated.
Kai: Relative to other crises you'd seen in your career, you've been in public health for a long time, did it frighten you relative to that or did it seem like, "Okay, this is going to be another crisis, but manageable?"
Dr. Oxiris: That's a great question. I think that in public health, part of the training that we do is training how to roll with the punches, so to speak. Even though we saw this as a setback, it wasn't something that we looked at as something that was insurmountable. We adjusted our game plan until we were able to get the test from the CDC. Now, mind you, we didn't expect that it was going to take three weeks and that was a major issue for us because it felt like in many respects our federal partners were not helping us to the degree that we had been used to in the past.
Kai: From that point forward, there is a great deal of public disagreement about what everybody said and did and I want to pick it apart a little bit, just to see what, if anything, we can learn from just how people react in the moment of crisis. The New York Times has reported on internal emails from Dr. Michael Katz who runs the Health & Hospitals Corporation. That's a separate department from the health department for people who don't know how New York City government works.
As late as early March, he was advising the mayor not to shut down large gatherings saying that it wasn't going to be as bad as Italy at the time. Other reporting suggests your department was urging a much more aggressive response, but publicly at least, you had said at a press conference right about then that people shouldn't be wearing masks, we shouldn't be sealing ourselves off in the apartment. What did you think about how bad things could get? What was the conversation in the administration at the time? What were you telling the mayor?
Dr. Oxiris: One of the things that we learned early on and I think that we were-- the best way to put it is we were clear with New Yorkers that this was a novel virus and that we were learning new things every single day and that as those things were learned, our guidance was going to be changing. In retrospect, we've been in this as a world for so long that it feels like we've been in it for 10 years when in reality, we've been in it for about 10 months and so each day was like a year so when we talk about guidance that was given that then changed. If we go back to the actual chronology, some of that guidance may have been changed, but it may have been like a 24 to 48-hour difference, again, as information was becoming available.
That being said, it's been widely reported and certainly is the truth was that there were very vigorous debates internally about the course of action that should be taken. I think that New Yorkers should feel good about that because in a healthy democracy, that's what we should expect from our scientific leaders, from our elected officials is a healthy debate about where the science is taking us.
Now clearly, the health department was very much in the perspective of coronavirus was a freight train that was barreling across the world and that each day of delayed action was the day that it was going to be harder and harder to contain the virus. Yes, we were already in favor of action that was dramatic and that would have happened earlier, but the reality is that as compared to other parts of the country, perhaps other parts of the world, we acted much faster.
I think what has helped New Yorkers and New York City the most, is that once the decisions were made, we helped those decisions. I look at other cities and states across the country and it's heartbreaking to see that the [unintelligible 00:12:06] at which there has been such flip-flopping on closing and opening and all those sorts of things like that, I think COVID's been a tremendous example of the importance of having science and politics align in the service of the health of Americans.
Kai: I wonder about though, you said other jurisdictions, there's been a lot of flip-flopping. Certainly from the outside, it just felt-- and you're right. We forget how quickly all of this has happened, but in that time period in March, that felt like years as we lived through it, it seemed like there was a lot of back and forth about how bad would it get here. It sounds like within the administration, there was a lot of debate about how bad would it get here. I wonder about hubris and what role you think it does or doesn't play in our ability to make contact with these kinds of health crises as just as individuals and as governments, this idea that it's never going to get as bad here where we're at as it got over there with those guys that we're better off than they are.
Dr. Oxiris: That's a really important question and whether it's hubris, whether it's denial, whether it's fear of the unknown, I think history will spell that out but certainly for all of us both in New York City and across the world, COVID has forced us all to draw upon our courage, to make decisions that in the moment seem like things that are out of some dystopian novel, but that in the moment are the right decisions to make to save the most lives, and I think we made them.
Kai: One of the things that became highly debated was just how to deploy what were horrifyingly limited resources on PPE, ventilators, and testing all the rest of it. You, of course, were involved in one of the debates that got quite public within police department. There were some harsh words thrown at you, you threw some harsh words according to reports that the police department. Can you talk about not so much that specific [unintelligible 00:14:33], but this fight over limited resources in that moment, what did it have to be? Did that have to be?
Dr. Oxiris: At that early period, I think that there was, again, a lot of fear and anxiety about what was happening and that people outside of public health weren't used to taking in the magnitude of situations that we were facing. There were discussions, there were heated arguments, but again, at the end of the day, it was about a city coming together to serve its population.
While there were stores of PPE, while there were stores of ventilators, et cetera, it wasn't just New York City and a vacuum that was going through this tremendous event. It was the state and it was other parts of the country as well. What I think left us most exposed, and we've talked about this before, was really the lack of a coordinated approach at the federal level that kept us at the local and state level from having to compete against one another.
Kai: I saw somewhere you talked about feeling that health officials like yourself throughout this, and that felt like you were in a no-win situation; damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Dr. Oxiris: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely because we were on an every day and almost like an every hour situation taking in information that seemed to be changing constantly and the challenge of communicating to the city in a way that was clear, consistent and that acknowledged what we knew and what we didn't know was so critical. In spite of that, people I think still feel like there were mixed messages, that there were misinformation provided. I think that's one of the challenges of having to communicate risk in a situation where a new virus is in reality, not behaving the way that scientists thought it would behave and having to change guidance along the way.
Now I will say, we didn't have to go back on guidance, but the reality was that it was a challenge to create a consistent narrative that New Yorkers could follow that they didn't then feel like that all hope is lost. That was one of our major, major goals because, in spite of the fact that we didn't know exactly how this virus was behaving, we did know that there were thousands of people that had died in China and that in spite of what elected officials may or may not have been saying that we were being clear from a public health perspective that we needed to be ready for large numbers of deaths.
Kai: Do you have anything that you feel like I wish I could get that one back, I wish I could do it differently? I know I do [chuckles] and I wasn't even the health commissioner, I have a million regrets of how I lived in March. Is there something where you're like, "What I learned is I would rather have done this?"
Dr. Oxiris: Kai, I've talked about before the fact that I made the best decisions that I could with the information that was available at the time, but I think the one redo that I would have is I would give our non-public health partners a crash course on how pandemics tend to behave so that there would have been less time dedicated to litigating what could or would have happened in a pandemic and there was more acceptance of, "Yes, this is what we anticipate."
Kai: I'm Kai Wright. I'm talking with former New York City health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, about what she learned while leading the nation's largest health department at the onset of this COVID-19 pandemic. Coming up, we'll talk about risk; how we're all managing it, what role public health plays in that process and we want to hear from you as winter approaches and we brace ourselves for a potential surge and this virus has spread. How are you managing risk in your business, as a worker, in your personal life? What risks are you taking? What's off the table? What aren't you sure about? Call us up at 646-435-7280. Again that's 646-435-7280 or tweet us using the hashtag, #USofAnxiety. This is United States of Anxiety, we'll be right back.
This is The United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. This week, we are both looking back and ahead at our collective response to COVID-19, trying to see what we can glean about not only this public health crisis but the ones that almost surely lay ahead as well. I'm joined by former New York City health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who was in the thick of it when COVID hit our city this spring in what was the nation's largest outbreak. She's now a senior fellow for public health and social justice with the JPB Foundation.
As we talk, we want to hear from all of you as well. As winter approaches, how are you managing your own risk around COVID? Maybe you run a business that puts you in contact with a lot of people or you do some form of work that demands that you be out and about. We're all tired of being isolated from our family and friends. Maybe that's making you read aside how you're going to take risks. What risks are you taking? What's off the table and what are you not sure about? Call us up at 646-435-7280. That's 646-435-7280 or tweet us using the hashtag, #USofAnxiety.
Dr. Barbot, as we wait for our callers to come in, one of the clear problems we start talking about is we think about personal management of risk is just widespread distrust of government. We've seen this in other places than New York, but it's certainly here too. One of the things we've seen now, for instance, with religious communities and some of the hot zones that are seeing spikes and infections and hospitalizations, is that people are just saying they don't believe the state's data. First question for you on that is, is this new as this distrust of public health? Is that new, or is this something that has always been a problem in times of crisis?
Dr. Oxiris: My experience is that this is a growing issue most recently. I think that when you have a disconnect between what the highest leadership is saying at the federal level as compared to what the scientific community is saying, that creates space for doubt in situations where there's a lot of unknowns. People want to feel like they've got control over their health and rightly so.
I tasked them with coming up with messaging that would help New Yorkers focus on what are those really core things that they could have control over irrespective of whatever situations they were in; wearing a face-covering when you're outdoors, washing your hands frequently, staying home as much as possible and following social distancing. All of that, every individual has control over and it helps them take domain over their health, if you will, protect their families but as importantly is help ensure the health of their community.
One of the things that I was very clear from the beginning is that we're all in this together and that our health and safety is dependent on the health and safety of our neighbors and so it's to all of our benefits to adhere to these guidelines. Yes, I get it, COVID fatigue, and people tired of being good, but I think that we have to really not lose sight of the fact that we have proven what sacrifice can do for us. We went from being the city that was at the epicenter of the pandemic here in the United States to one that has controlled the virus to really a very substantial degree and you can't go back on that.
Kai: What would you say to-- In most people, it does seem to be the case; hear you and agree with you and that we've all got to be in this together, but it is the case that some people just don't. That don't agree and they just don't believe that what comes from public health officials is something they should trust. It's a distrust issue. We've heard that. What do you do with that?
Dr. Oxiris: One of the lessons I learned from the measles epidemic was that the more trusted voices that we get to amplify the message that the data is pointing towards, the better off we all are. What that means to me then is that we need religious leaders. We need civic leaders to all, not just say the words, but practice the actions that we know will save New Yorkers lives so that if face coverings and social distancing and hand hygiene didn't work, we would not have been able to curtail the number of new cases per day, the way that we did.
Kai: Let's hear from listeners on this. We were asking, how are you managing your personal risk as we head into the winter and the holidays? What's on the table for you? What's off the table for you? What aren't you sure about? Let's hear from Shameen in The Bronx. Shameen, welcome to the show.
Shameen: Thank you. Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.
Kai: Shameen. I'm told that you own a small business in The Bronx that was closed in March and then reopened in June.
Shameen: Yes, due to COVID, we had to close for three months. Yes, it was pretty hard, but soon after we opened, customer rush to come in, but we have so many incidents. I have so many incidents in the salon. When I book an appointment with the customer, she was a lady, I think she [unintelligible 00:27:45] her late 50s, but her husband is the one who came to my door first, but because I know them, I let him come in and he actually came with a thermometer to check our temperature before his wife comes in. Just to tell you that people are aware that the virus is here. You really have to be careful and try to protect ourself. Business has not been the same way that it used to be. It used to be done not being the same way, its hard. Financially, it's very hard.
Kai: Financially, it's hard. I assume as a consequence, that's why you're taking risk to yourself because you're putting yourself at risk as well by having the salon--
Shameen: Exactly. Exactly.
Kai: How do you feel about that risk?
Shameen: I think we still have to move on with our life, but we just have to keep in mind that the virus is here and we have to protect ourself. Take all the measure,s and just follow all the guidelines.
Kai: Shameen, thanks for calling and stay safe and I hope that you were able to balance these two demands of making money and keeping yourself healthy. Dr. Barbot, that story reminds me of the whole conversation about equity, in particular racial equity, within all of this. It is an undisputed fact that COVID-19 has been devastating for communities of color; Black, Latino, Native Americans are almost five times as likely as white Americans to be hospitalized and Black people are more than twice as likely to die. If we have another wave this winter in the Northeast, do you think we've learned anything that will make those numbers differently?
Dr. Oxiris: Kai, I think it's inevitable that we will have a resurgence of COVID infections. I think we're starting to see that now in New York City. The question is the degree to which that resurgence will become what we think of as a second wave. In this time of super connectedness and media blitzing, I think, all too often we forget about the fact that we have communities in our city and across the country where English media may not have the same saturation as other language media, where there are other trusted partners who can help spread the word. My hope is that there's been learning from that to really amplify those now that we're seeing a resurgence.
Kai: Let's go to Nadia in New Jersey. Nadia, welcome to the show.
Nadia: Hi, thanks so much, Kai. This is Nadia from Bloomingdale, New Jersey. Yes, I have a kindergartener. He's five years old and our town actually closed down all the schools, and that had a lot of mixed reactions from parents. I will say as your guest was talking about the guidelines and all that in New Jersey, we're also another hotspot. Our governor, Phil Murphy, I'm really grateful to him especially as a parent because of the guidelines he put out. I feel like he really led the way. When you have leadership that's saying, "Go by facts," and by going by health facts and giving that guidance out.
Also, he's actually holding people accountable. There are people who are opening their businesses and having weddings, [unintelligible 00:31:31]. Knowing that the governor has been putting out guidelines for trick or treating, and things like schools and things like that, times aren't perfect, but I will say having that in our state, it has really given me a lot of-- it just made me feel a lot safer and actually less stressed out.
Kai: Okay. Thank you, Nadia. A vote for Governor Phil Murphy's leadership there. Let's go to Scott in Brooklyn. Scott, welcome to the show.
Scott: Hey, guys. Hey, Kai. Thank you for taking my call. I have more questions than I have answers or more questions than I have plans. What am I going to do about the holidays? I'm single. I'm not going to go back to my home state. I also feel like here in the city, I'm in Brooklyn, that they're not moving fast enough to shut things down and to preempt this next wave that's coming. I know that's a fairly aggressive thing to say, but anyways-- I'm also worried about my economic prospects.
I'm doing everything I can and I continue to wear face masks in public. I see a lot of people that are not doing that on the train. I have a small social group that I gather with that's my umbrella, that's my bubble. It's depressing to think of health, but I think that's how it's going to be until at least the spring. I'm surprised that so far that there's not been any state today recently, any more aggressive action. Thank you.
Kai: Thanks for calling, Scott. Dr. Barbot, what do you think? Where do we stand right now? Is the reaction that the state has offered both state and the city to this new surge? Is it in keeping with what you would see having them do?
Dr. Oxiris: Kai, I think there's two things here. One is the notion to adapting to our new normal. It's not just about the individual actions, but about the actions of a community. The other one is about how we enforce those so that when and if we see resurgence, we don't have to resort to the most aggressive actions. I will say that having learned what we learned from the first go-around in terms of the level of aggressive [unintelligible 00:34:05] needed in order to quell the spread. I think that there's room for holding more people accountable for adhering to these measures. I think that, again, our religious leaders, our civic leaders have a role to play in this as well. I don't want us to be in a situation where lack of aggressive action will lead to further cases.
Kai: We just have a couple of minutes left here with you, but this holding individuals accountable versus thinking about the structural issues that we're all dealing with, how do we balance those two things? It feels like we're often talking about in this particular epidemic, what are we doing as individuals but what about what is the state doing? What is the city doing? Where are the tests?
Dr. Oxiris: Right. I think that in terms of testing, the city has evolved a fairly mature testing strategy that incorporates PCR testing with rapid point-of-care testing that's perhaps less accurate, but if you do it in high spread communities, you're more likely to find potential clusters, and then act accordingly. One of the things that we put in place for our Equity Action Plan at the health department led was really highlighting the need to ensure access to food, access to stable housing for those families that were living in overcrowded housing, who've had insecure housing, who had financial difficulties because, yes, you're right. From a structural perspective, it's incumbent on the city to ensure that people can safely isolate and quarantine as a way of stopping the spread. It's not just about individuals. It's absolutely about what the city can and should be doing.
Kai: Dr. Oxiris Barbot is the former health commissioner of New York City. She's currently a senior fellow for the public health and social justice at the JPB Foundation. Dr. Barbot, thanks for being so generous with your time tonight.
Dr. Oxiris: Thank you, Kai. Good to be with you.
Kai: Before we wrap up, just a short meditation on risk in the time of COVID. Risk is such a slippery idea. We all define it differently. We all have our own definitions that can be shifty from time to time. Our reporter Jenny Casas has been thinking about that a lot from her home in Chicago.
Jenny Casas: The past seven months, I, like so many other people, have a whole list of rules and boundaries that I have for myself to avoid getting sick. I've been thinking about all the little ways that we break those rules; how we violate our own lines in the sand, who we make exceptions for, and why all these COVID hypocrisies. Do you actually hold the 6 feet when you're hanging out with friends at a distance? Or when you go on a jog, are you wearing the mask the whole time? For me, at least, the stress of having to layout my boundaries for other people, it's really changed who I'm willing to see and how. I'm going to have you introduce yourself.
Stephany: I'm Stephany Guzman. I'm a comedian in Chicago.
Jenny: Steph is an Aries. She has the word "chaos" tattooed on her right arm. I wanted to talk to her because she is navigating the same kinds of boundary tensions specifically with her family.
Stephany: My parents don't tell me the truth. I think my parents keep things from me--
Jenny: Steph's parents, they're looking to buy a property and she's been helping them out like going to see buildings and meeting with brokers and they're waiting around for the real estate agent to show up.
Stephany: We're walking around as we were going, I was like, "Hey, so how's your weekend? What are you up to?" They go, "Oh, yes. Your cousin who just came from California, he had his birthday party." I was like, "Okay, who was at his birthday party?" "Everybody." I was like, "How many people?" "Like 40 people."
Jenny: Steph's parents show her a bunch of pictures. Everyone's dancing, having a great time, but there is not a mask in sight.
Stephany: I immediately backed off. I was like 6 feet--
Jenny: If you've been out and social at all in this pandemic, you've probably had a moment like this where you think you're on the same page about COVID safety and somewhere in the interaction the other person shows you that y'all are not sharing definitions.
Stephany: I was like, "Hey look--" I just told him I was like, "We can't see each other anymore." I was like, "Today's going to be completely different actually. I'm not going to see these properties with you. We cannot see each other anymore." [laughs] I was just breaking up with them. I just had to break up with them.
Jenny: As I understood it, Steph didn't want to see her parents for her own safety, but as we kept talking, it was really clear that Steph's parents weren't the only ones taking risks. Steph is also breaking her own boundaries.
Stephany: Yes, I've got caught up a couple of times that I'm not proud of.
Jenny: There was this time when someone she barely knew had a really bad bike accident outside of her apartment.
Stephany: I let him in my house. No mask, touched their blood. I know but it was such a weird thing to turn somebody away who was hurt.
Jenny: She lets them in. She bandages them up.
Stephany: Then there was a kiss that happened at the end and it's not-- but they actually they kissed me and it's not like I turned them away and then I kissed him back and then I eventually then I kissed them after they kissed me and then I was like, "Oh my God."
Jenny: Kissing strangers isn't such a deal when it's not the middle of a pandemic, but in this new context, Steph and the person on the bike were really embarrassed. They definitely didn't hang out again after that night.
Then there were the two parties Steph went to. The first, she arrived with a mask, but let her guard down.
Stephany: The mask came out quick.
Jenny: It was just super nice to be around people again.
Stephany: It was so nice.
Jenny: There was a softness to this feeling of life back to normal before she was hit by a wave of guilt.
Stephany: Then I did it again recently. I'm going to be honest with you. Part of me was like, "We all know the consequences here." It was like all 20 of us right here. We're going to die together. [laughs] We understand how we're going to die together because that's what it feels like about. It almost takes the guilt off because you go, "This is a birthday party. Nobody's being held hostage here." I don't feel like I'm like, "I put all of these people in jeopardy." I would feel that if I hung out with my parents, but I don't feel that from going to that party because I do feel that everybody understood what was happening.
Jenny: There is zero public health logic to what Steph is saying. There isn't even a consistent logic between how she's treating the parties she's going to and the one that made her stop seeing her parents. This is my favorite moment in this interview though because it is absurd and also so relatable. Our COVID hypocrisies need these strange reasonings. I have also had these same spirals of talking myself out of feeling guilty for putting myself and others at risk consciously and subconsciously.
Stephany: I think my parents would probably still see me, but I wouldn't want that.
Jenny: Is it a matter of whose life you're willing to put at risk?
Stephany: [laughs] That's just it. I don't think I put those people's lives at risk. I did. I think that's wrong. I did put their life at risk, but I'm just not going to do that to my parents.[chuckles] So what, Jenny?
Jenny: I think that this is the thing that everyone's dealing with. I think your own life is in that too like, "Oh, I'll get sick, but not other people, not my parents."
Stephany: Yes, that's right. It's exactly, but I'm going to make the choice for them and take care and not put them at risk.
Jenny: After all this, I asked Steph whether she'd break her own rules again. Whether it's for a party or for a kiss.
Stephany: No, everything is going to be a risk. It's just going to suck. The winter is going to be bleak. Honestly, I don't know that I won't break again. I'll be honest. I could potentially break, it's not something I want to do, but I'm not going to sit here and be like, "It's not going to happen ever again."
Kai: That was our reporter, Jenny Casas. I have Jenny here on the phone with me. Hey, Jenny.
Jenny: Hey, Kai.
Kai: I have to ask you because I agree with Steph like winter is going to suck and I'm scared.
Kai: What are you going to do? How are you going to make it through this?
Jenny: Whoo. [laughs] What a question to ask me, Kai. I think it's just going to be really doubling down on my community. It's going to be doubling down on mental health [unintelligible 00:44:28] and a lot of that. I think that's going to be what it is. [laughs]
Kai: I agree with you. That sounds very nice. I wonder about, we've talked about this thing where we as individuals feel so much weight. I tried to ask Dr. Barbot about this, but I didn't feel like I got a good answer. It's about so much more than what we are choosing as individuals.
Jenny: Yes, and I think that conversation with Steph for me just really exposes the ways that it's actually a structural issue. We can be mad at Steph or anyone for making risky decisions, but ultimately we are in a position to make those decisions because of the ways that the structures around us are moving. It's hard to not think about pleasure as an essential thing. [crosstalk]
Kai: Other humans are essential.
Jenny: I think we can do it with some risk mitigation, but sometimes we flip up. I think everyone flips up and I wish everyone a lot of grace for this winter.
Kai: A lot of grace and a lot of baths-
-to try to make it through. It's Jenny Casas, one of our reporters who is in Chicago. Thanks, Jenny.
Jenny: Thank you.
Kai: United States of Anxiety is a production of WNYC Studios. Jared Paul makes the podcast version. Kevin Bristow and Matthew Marando were at the boards for the live show. Our team also includes Carolyn Adams, Emily Botein, Jenny Casas, Marianne McCune, Christopher Werth, and Veralyn Williams. Our theme music was written by Hannis Brown and performed by the Outer Borough Brass Band. Karen Frillmann is our executive producer and I'm Kai Wright. You can keep in touch with me on Twitter @kai_wright. That's K-A-I and Wright, like the brothers. As always, I hope you'll join us for the live version of the show next Sunday, 6:00 PM Eastern. You can stream it at wnyc.org or just tell your smart speaker to play WNYC. Until then, take care, be safe, and thanks for listening.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.