COVID Confessions: Why I won’t be called COVID Matt

An examination of my anxieties

We haven’t printed one of these in some time, and I’m afraid we deluded ourselves into thinking that we didn’t have to. That they were a thing of the past. That we’d confessed the last thing worth confessing.

But our headlines tell a different story, and once again are blaring dire news about the coronavirus and about the pandemic and about, in general, the sky falling down.

Despite accusations that we profit off that sort of thing, I much prefer writing about tortoises and accordionists and the brighter side of life. Things change, though, when the pandemic is at your doorstep.

Since Texas began its enthusiastic jaunt toward normalcy in May, thousands in Hidalgo County have been infected with the coronavirus and dozens have died. Some may think this is not, perhaps, an astronomical figure, but the amount of people who may yet fight the virus is a frightening statistic.

So far, the virus has a fatality rate of about 1.1%. If every one of the county’s 868,707 residents caught the virus, we would be left with 9,556 bodies to bury — if that fatality rate remains consistent.

With doctors and politicians warning that plague wards in hospitals are filling up and that the ones who’ve caught the virus so far are mostly the young and the healthy, that “if” seems more optimistic than realistic.

The governor and the county judge attribute the increase to young people who’ve decided to risk the pandemic in favor of pubs and parties.

This is a confession in the ecumenical sense of the word: I am one of those young people.

I went to bars and I went to restaurants. I can hardly describe the amount of good that talking to a stranger at a bar did for me, or how much I enjoyed having lunch with my mother. The little things in life don’t seem so little after four months of pandemic, and I wasn’t even as isolated as others I know.

My confidence was buoyed by other people doing the same thing, and by that thing being allowed, even encouraged, by pundits and doctors with Facebook accounts who differ with the World Health Organization. I’m not a doctor and it’s hard to see why I should differ with one on medical matters.

What’s dissuaded me going out is the concrete fact that more than 31 of my neighbors are dead. That’s not a large sum in the grand scheme of things, but if one of those 31 was my mother, father or sister, it would certainly be one death too many for me.

“Sure,” people say, “they died, but they all had underlying conditions,” — they were obese or asthmatic, or smoked or suffered from cancer, or maybe drank too much Diet Coke and didn’t eat enough kale.

By that metric, my mother and father and grandmothers and grandfather and godfather and editor and coworkers and many of my friends and many of my family also have underlying conditions that could add them to the roster.

I’d much rather none of them died.

There was an Irish cook once (whose last name no one remembers) called Mary Mallon. She cooked for the rich, so she must’ve been decent at her trade, but she isn’t remembered as Mary the cook.

Mary Mallon is better known as Typhoid Mary, and she’s better remembered for disease and negligence and uncleanliness than the culinary arts.

Mary was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever, and because of that she left a trail of sorrow and suffering in her wake wherever she went. At least three people died because of her. Many more got sick.

She actively eluded being secluded from people she could infect. Cooking paid well, at least well enough to keep her above the poverty line. At one point they say she brandished a carving knife at people who wanted to prove she carried typhoid.

Mary is a villain to history, but now I find it hard not to sympathize with the poor woman who just wanted to work, who just wanted to live. I’m not so different than her, really. I did nothing illegal going to a bar, or by having lunch with my mother.

Maybe, though, I did do something reckless. The judge says young people have spread the coronavirus to their families, inadvertently infecting them with a virus that could kill them. There certainly are more young people infected and more people dead.

I don’t have COVID-19 and I don’t think I have had it yet, but there’s folks among us who have. Folks among us who’ve accidently spread the virus to their mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters. Folks who haven’t done anything terribly different than Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon never believed she had typhoid. Doctors did though, and they quarantined her for the last two decades of her life. She died in 1938, and only nine people attended her lonely funeral.

I don’t think I could live a life like Mary did. I don’t think I could cut myself off from friends and family, from that stranger at the bar and from a lunch with my mother. Not for decades anyhow. I don’t know how Mary kept on living.

I don’t know how Mary Mallon got through it, but I do know what the professionals tell me. I know that they say to stay home and to wash my hands. I know they say to wear a mask. I know they say that the punishment isn’t over just yet and it might not be over for a long time. More than anything, I damn well know that I won’t be called COVID Matt.


Editor’s note: The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyday life across the Rio Grande Valley. To document that change, The Monitor is publishing personal accounts from journalists and everyday citizens. These are the stories of ordinary life in an extraordinary time. If you have a story to share, email us at [email protected]