COVID-19 sucks. One of the suckiest parts has been not seeing our friends. I don’t have a billion of them, but I really love the ones I do have, and I miss seeing them in person, without the mitigation of a screen between us. Then I got the idea of doing something my sister-in-law has been doing with my parents-in-law and her kids since the whole outbreak began: yard visiting.
Now that my governor has lifted the stay-at-home order, a dubious decision at best and a catastrophic one at worst, we allow people to come to our yard. I know. It sounds bonkers. Stay with me, people.
WTF is ‘Yard Visiting’?
Yard visiting, which sounds like the most Southern redneck phenomenon of all time, happens when people, taking all due precautions against the spread of virus and assuming that all parties involved are asymptomatic carriers, come a-visiting … in the yard, at a proper social distance of more than six feet.
The phenomenon of “yard visiting” has come, at least on our end, from a sense of total isolation. I don’t talk to anyone face-to-face except:
- people I gave life to
- a person who aided in that whole giving life thing
- the person who gave life to me
This is a lie. I sometimes yell effusive thank-yous really, really loud at the UPS, postal service, and Amazon delivery people, which they heartily deserve, because without them, our country would degenerate into a Mad Max-style economy based on toilet paper, Twinkies, and tortilla chips. But an effusive “Thank you and I am glad you are wearing a mask to stay safe and have a blessed day now” (I do live in the South, y’all) does not count as conversation.
So we are all utterly desperate for human contact. When my friend Joey offered to come over, stand in the yard, and yell at us from a distance, we hauled out the lawn furniture, opened the front gate so he wouldn’t have to touch it, sat on the porch, and waited. I almost cried when he walked between my rosemary bushes and sat at the black metal table.
Why We Think This Is Safe
We treat this situation like a CDC Level 5 Hot Zone. In other words, COVID-19 is Schrodinger’s virus: we all simultaneously treat ourselves as if we have the virus (like asymptomatic carriers) and we don’t have the virus (we must be protected from it at all costs). Like the cat in the box that’s both alive and dead at the same time until someone opens the box to check, we’re both sick and well at once. So we have to keep both guest and host completely safe.
To us, that means that yard visiting must take place while maintaining a minimum of ten feet in sunshine, humidity, and a gentle breeze. Our Table of Demarcation, a set of metal lawn chairs surrounding a table — half in the sun, sorry y’all, that’s why we set out a sterilized bottle of sunscreen — sits about twelve feet from our front porch, and ten feet from the center path, which the children are banned from crossing. This is well above the CDC recommended social distance of six feet.
We’ve read extensively on the way COVID-19 spreads — and how to keep yard visiting safe. Paul Dabisch, a senior research scientist at the Department of Homeland Security’s biodefense research laboratory, said that lab results indicate that sunlight, high temperatures, and humidity all make it less likely for SARS-CoV-2 to survive (and we have plenty of those three things where I live). Dabisch says that, “Within minutes, the majority of the virus is inactivated on surfaces and in the air in direct sunlight.” A recently-released study from China found that out of 1,245 confirmed cases, only two of those — both stemming from the same event — were transmitted in an outdoor venue. And Dr. Marty Makary, Professor of Health Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Health, told the New York Times that “being outdoors with appropriate distancing carries a lower risk of getting the infection than being indoors.”
Of course, the virus can still spread through the air and since there is still so much we don’t know about the virus, we all still take more-than-recommended safety precautions.
How These Precautions Work With Yard Visiting
We do sort of have to yell across the yard. We take safety precautions recommended by the CDC or mandated by the state, including masks and at at least six feet of distance between each person.
When yard visiting happens, time stops. We may have things to do. We may have work. We may have plans. But suddenly, there is a guest. In a strange way, it’s very Mediterranean. Things become unhurried. We concentrate on one another. We focus and enjoy and appreciate one another in a way I hope we continue post-COVID. I realize what a treasure it is to see people face-to-face. You feel like a pioneer, and someone has arrived from the frontier with news of the outside world. You drop everything and take your time with them.
When friends leave from yard visiting, we feel refreshed. Our lives are better and saner and less likely to run off the rails. Yeah, they sat ten feet away and short of shouted about stuff like Star Wars movies and stories about local political figures claiming to hear ivory-billed woodpeckers in order to save huge tracts of old-growth forests.
But yard visiting can be safe. Yard visiting can be a gift in these troubled times. It can be a saving grace.
It can also mean the neighbor hears you screaming about the merits of Star Wars Clone Wars versus Star Wars Rebels, but they always had their suspicions about you, anyway.