Toolkit Throwback: How to Talk to Each Other About Wearing Masks

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Andy and Zach take a new approach in this episode, exploring the most pressing topics on people’s minds with two experts. Today: how to talk to others in your life who disagree with you about masks and social distancing. The panelists are Lanhee Chen, presidential health policy advisor to Mitt Romney, and United States of Care co-founder Natalie Davis.

Show notes:

Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt

Follow Natalie Davis @NatalieEPD and Lanhee Chen @lanheechen on Twitter.

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[00:46] Andy Slavitt: Welcome to In the Bubble. I’m Andy Slavitt. We have a different kind of show for you today, and we are very excited to see what you think of it. Instead of our normal Monday mini-episode, what we’ve decided to do is respond to some of the many questions and requests we’ve gotten from you. To deal with some topics, some of the most challenging topics that the pandemic and the recent times have presented. And so what we’re going to do is try out a different type of episode. And the episode is going to be focused around a very specific, challenging topic that you present to us. And we’re going to answer your questions and bring on some experts to focus on the topic. 


[01:30] Andy Slavitt: So based upon how well you like it, we will continue to do this kind of thing on Mondays, in between our regular Wednesday shows, or do it occasionally. So the easiest way for us to know will be if after the episode you rate it, you give us comments, you tell more people about it, you subscribe. And we’ll look at the listener numbers. And the good news is the more people to listen, the more money that goes to COVID relief. So we’re eager to see we put a lot of work into this episode and the topic that we’ve chosen, you’ll hear me refer to as the crisis within the crisis. It is how are we able to talk to people around the country, in our families, in our friend group, at our office space who disagree with us or have different views on how serious a pandemic is and things like wearing masks and other things. To do that, as you’ll see, we’ve brought on two very interesting points of view. And we’re going to read your emails and play some voicemails to that group and we’re going to talk it through and get a sense. Let us know how you liked it. Let us know how it works and whether or not you think it’s something we should keep up. We have two wonderful guests today. I don’t think they would profess to have all the answers, but I’ve known both for quite some time and I think they’re going to be incredibly helpful in providing perspective. Let me introduce them to you. Our first guest is Natalie Davis. 


[03:02] Andy Slavitt: She is the co-founder of United States of Care and she leads the public affairs function. Natalie is one of the country’s leading thinkers in people-centered health care design. How do we create policies and a health care system that meets the needs of real people? She’s done a tremendous amount of research here on how people communicate and talk to each other in health care. You’ll find her incredibly helpful here. Lanhee Chen, who if you listened to an earlier episode, was on the podcast along with Ron Klain, when we talked about the competency episode. Lanhee is a senior policy adviser at the Hoover Institute. He was a campaign policy adviser, senior campaign adviser to Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign. He and I have done some bipartisan sharing with Congress on the topic of health care. He also happens to be the chair of a hospital in California where one of the first patients came in with COVID-19. And so he has great firsthand reaction and I think can help us understand how different people are approaching these topics. So welcome to both of you. So just open up and we’re going to get to some questions. We put out a question literally eight hours ago asking people if they were having any situations that were difficult in communicating to people around how they feel about keeping themselves safe or their family safe with COVID-19 and the pandemic. And the questions started pouring in two a minute. We won’t have time to cover all of them, but I think the ones we cover will be helpful to almost all of the questions. So this sounds like a big problem. It sounds like a crisis within the crisis. And it’s not necessarily going to even get better in the near term. So I guess my opening question for both of you is, do you personally have any experience dealing with that type of situation in your own families or friend group? And what’s your general approach? Do you have any overall thoughts and advice on how people should approach a situation like this before we get into the actual questions? Natalie, can we begin with you? 


[05:22] Natalie Davis: Sure. You know, it’s not surprising to me that questions are coming in so quickly. We are at another turning point of what new normal looks like. And with anxieties high and with information changing constantly, it’s not surprising to me that there are new social situations coming up all the time that people are trying to navigate. The way my husband and I have been thinking about this is honestly, about every two weeks we sit down and say, OK, what are we comfortable with? As new guidance has come out, as our city opens up and others do and don’t we sit down and say, OK, what do we now know about the virus that changes how we want to interact socially? And kind of come up with here’s what we’re comfortable with and here’s what we’re not comfortable with, and kind of are able to do that together, which I’m thankful for. And talk to our kids about how things are changing. And then have found a way to kind of set up boundaries with our loved ones that say, here’s what we’re comfortable with. We’d love to get together. How are you living your life right now? What are you comfortable with? And that has led for some great opportunities to talk about how we’re all thinking about the world right now. It, unfortunately, has led to some moments where we say we can’t hang out with people because of the jobs they have, which is really unfortunate. 


[06:40] Natalie Davis: They are helping set up the country for success there in delivering food, delivering packages, a nurse, a police officer. And so we have to think about creative ways where both parties feel really comfortable getting together. And the way we found to do that has been really kind of firm with our boundaries, but really empathetic with the boundaries other people are setting up. We know that they are not there to hurt us. They are just seeing this virus as something different. And the truth of their reality is the same as the truth of our reality. And we just have to figure out a way to kind of coexist. And they’ve been kind of hard conversations because there are times we see the world differently. But with boundaries means that we want to find a way to kind of live together. It’s a respect for the relationship and being able to come and continue to see each other or know that we have to put that off for a little bit. And then, you know, my husband, the humorist, always leads with I just home-schooled four kids and I’m not going to, you know, go do this activity that puts how I just live the last four months at jeopardy because of something that I feel pressured to do, which I’m just not going to. So, you know, leading with if there’s time for humor, knowing that for kids at home for four months, there’s nothing you want to pretend like wasn’t a big deal.


[07:55] Andy Slavitt: I just saw a meme that someone shared with me, which said, Don’t want to wear a mask? Excited to homeschool again?


[08:01] Natalie Davis: Right, right. And that is how we’ve talked about, you know, the economy opening back up is great. And it does mean the sacrifice of wearing masks and social distancing. So all of these things that allow us to see each other might hamper us in how we used to see each other. But it is a way to finally see each other when we haven’t for months. 


[08:21] Andy Slavitt: Got it. Thanks, Natalie. Lanhee, how would you answer that?


[08:24] Lanhee Chen: Yeah, I think that’s a lot of very good counsel from Natalie. I would just stress transparency and clarity, I think just in terms of how one thinks about this and how you deal with it. I mean, transparency is important because in these conversations you have with people, you know, I think the worst thing is to sort of say, look, here is something that we are deciding, and to not make it clear, particularly if you have an ongoing or a long-term relationship with someone or family or friend or whatever it might be. And to not be clear about why it is that you’re thinking what you’re thinking. I think then people kind of wonder, well, you know, do you think it’s me? Do you think I’m the one who hasn’t been, you know, obeying the rules? And therefore, that makes me unworthy to be, you know, your hangout partner for the day or whatever it might be. Having some transparency and to say, look, you know, here is how I’m approaching this or here’s how we’re approaching setting boundaries around who we’re seeing and the kinds of activities we’re taking on. You know, I think that’s very important so that people understand, look, you know, here’s where I’m coming from and here’s why I’m thinking. And then clarity around, you know, here’s what I am hearing about the science around the virus. Here’s what I’m hearing about why we’re setting limitations in this way. And, you know, just recognizing an understanding that. Because the other part of this, Andy, that makes it hard is that, you know, you’ve got listeners from all over the country, and in different parts of the country, there are different societal expectations. There are different norms around what’s open and what’s not and what people believe is ordinary activity and not. 


[09:56] Lanhee Chen: And so you have to calibrate for the fact that the answers that you would give in a place like where I live, which is Santa Clara County in Northern California, where, you know, mask wearing is relatively universal and the compliances is pretty high, you know, that’s going to be a very different scenario than if you lived in a place where where people weren’t necessarily adopting that point of view. So I think it’s the same advice that I’ve given to government policymakers, which is, look, if you’re going to put in place a restriction, be transparent about what you’re trying to do, and be clear about why you’re doing it. And I think that advice applies in the individual and family context, too.


[10:35] Andy Slavitt: I’m keeping track of these lessons that you’re pulling out, and at the end we may come back and just confirm them. Let’s start with a couple of family situations. I’m going to read one from Beth Lime. “My children are 14, 17 and 20, and we’re finding it difficult to manage their social needs with what we believe is appropriately cautious behavior. Their friend groups are large, and not from the same families, making it difficult to form quarantine bubbles.” By the way, I love that she used the word bubbles. “And many of their friends’ families are not as serious about distancing or reducing the number of people they interact with as we are. So how to best keep them and us safe while making sure they’re able to stay social and mentally healthy while they feel like their friends are having normal summer with little to no restrictions. When I have expressed what we believed to be responsible behavior to these families I met with, ‘we think the kids are fine being close together, outside or going in and out of each other’s houses. We are done with this social distancing thing.’” So this situation is apparently very common. People who sound like they were social distancing at first, but then summer came and they’re tired of it, and for a variety of reasons, they’re not having it any longer. And you’ve got, you know, young adults, teenagers, young adults who can think for themselves and aren’t feeling particularly at risk. So what are your thoughts Lanhee about in a situation like that? 


[12:06] Lanhee Chen: Yeah, well, you know, my my kids are nine and six, although my nine year old socially likes to think he’s going on 15. So maybe I empathize with the desire to see lots of friends. I think there’s a few points to underscore. First of all, I completely understand that there are a number of families that are frustrated, or that feel like, you know, they want to try and resume their normal lives. And so I guess the first thing I would say is, you know, it’s important to recognize that while there are different styles of approaching this in terms of what an appropriate amount of social distancing is, or what kind of groups and social groups people feel comfortable with, I don’t think that — well, let me put it this way. There is a right way to socially distance and a wrong way to socially distance, I don’t want to mince words about that. But I do think that it’s important not to impose judgment on others who are feeling that mental frustration or the mental tiredness that has come with this period of time we’ve been in. So recognizing that and understanding that is fully important. What I tell my own kids about this, and particularly my older one, is that it is good to be able to see people. And obviously that’s an important part of social and mental development for kids, is to have the social environments. But trying to explain that these are boundaries that we are setting because we believe that we want to do what we can to play our part in the community and to do what needs to be done, but also to protect our own family. 


[13:32] Lanhee Chen: I find having that explanation and sitting down with the kids and saying, look, we’re not saying you can’t have no interactions, but we’re also saying that you can’t have the same interactions you had as before the virus, because we know enough now about the virus to know that these restrictions, and some of the things that we’re doing, are absolutely the right thing to do. And having that conversation with your own kids first and making sure they understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, I think is important. And then having those conversations with other families, maybe trying to gauge what their comfort level is, how they’ve been engaging in various things, social distancing or otherwise, and then making decisions based on what works best for your family. I just don’t think anybody can fault one for making decisions based on what’s best for their own family. And we see this in all sorts of different contexts. So I would approach it first with my own family and kids and then talk a little bit about, you know, trying to gauge with other families kind of what they’ve been doing. And, you know, at the end of the day, you’ve got to draw lines. You know, we hope it’s not for forever, but those lines do have to be drawn now.


[14:34] Natalie Davis: Yeah, and I agree. And just a little to add is there are situations where you could say to another family, you know, our kid Joe really wants to see your son Rob. Would you guys be willing to, like, shut it down for five days, seven days so that they can have, you know, to be in a bubble together? We know you can’t do that long term, but can we figure out something so we get these kids together? They’re such good friends. How can we do this where we’re both comfortable? And again, I think it goes back to Lanhee’s advice earlier of just having clear explanations of why you feel this way. And it’s not a judgment on the other family. But what works for your family?


[15:17] Andy Slavitt: I think Lanhee, your advice, you know, at some level, we’re not going to be able to watch our 18 year olds or 20 year olds or 15 year olds, even our 12 year olds, 24 by seven. So having them understand and helping them make good decisions and helping them understand the implications is important. And I’m sure there’s times when kids don’t listen because that’s what kids do. You know, if you have someone in your house who’s immunocompromised and you’ve got a sticky situation where you think your kid is doing things where you’re not going to be safe. And look, we know situations like that. And it’s been one where the kids have even been aware that their parents are immunocompromised and still continue to go out because they don’t feel like it’s going to make an impact and then a harder line have had to be drawn.


[17:53] Andy Slavitt: I’m going to read another situation, a family situation. This one sounds pretty challenging. It was really around what it’s like for divorced parents from Liz Marks. She says, “we do not agree on the severity of the virus, or how strict to be with our kids about contact with others. Divorced for five years, two kids. Worst time to be co-parenting. Our pediatrician said he’s been receiving more calls than ever before about this conflict with parents who are both married and divorced. Tough to balance the risks of the children’s need for interactions. My ex also blames me for making kids fearful and afraid, when in reality I’m making sure they are safe and healthy. Love to get your thoughts.” So I know neither of you are a marriage or family therapist, counselors. But, Natalie, I think, you know, you’ve done a lot of work and a lot of thinking in how people trying to cross really difficult barriers. What advice would you give to Liz? 


[18:50] Natalie Davis: This is a tough one. And, you know, as a kid who had parents who were divorced, but very functional in their co-parenting, it’s hard to say this, given the person’s email. But, you know, getting on the same page is so important for the health of the kid, and trying to figure out a compromise, so you’re both on the same page. Having said that, that sounds like that may not be possible in this situation. So part of my job is to go out and understand people’s health care experiences and to find where there are commonalities across people, and where there are really important differences across different demographics. And recently, with COVID, we’ve continued to talk to people about their health care experiences and what they need from the health care system and how they’re doing during COVID. And across demographics, you know, when we said, what are you concerned about, the most pressing concern people had was the health and safety of their loved ones at 66 percent, followed closely by their own personal health. And so, you know, if there is a way to lead in these conversations with this joint value of this is about safety for our kids. This is about safety for us. How can we find a middle ground? Or if there’s another thing that these two co-parents have a shared value of, is there a way to ground that in the conversation rather than it feeling like, you know, you’re making my kids sick or you’re being irresponsible. In a world of compromise, that’s where I would lead. I certainly don’t know if I would work in this situation. 


[20:23] Lanhee Chen: Yeah. Boy, I mean, this is a tough one, you know, and not even just for parents who are divorced. I mean, I know lots of married couples where the two parents have different views or different standards or different thoughts about how to handle this. And I do think, you know, getting on the same page is important. I guess I would say this. I feel like it’s important for both parents to realize, you know, probably not going to get 100 percent of what you want. You might not get 80 percent of what you want. You know, I’d settle for 50.1 in this scenario and doing your best to meet in the middle, because understanding that there are all sorts of emotions that are caught up with this pandemic and with this crisis. There are feelings of anxiety. Their feelings of one questions one’s own decisions sometimes, you know, was this really the right call? Am I being too conservative? Am I being too permissive? And so I think you have to accept that all those things are swirling in people’s heads. And that’s going to make it tough to come to a place where you feel a 100 percent comfortable and your spouse or co-parent or the person you’re working with feels 100 percent comfortable as well. So I think being able to meet in the middle, but recognizing, look, I’m not going to get my ideal world because, you know, we aren’t in this alone. These endeavors in many situations require the intersection, interaction of lots of different people. And so just recognizing that, you know, probably not going to get 100 percent of what I want, but what I can do is I can try to get as much agreement as I can and try and meet in the middle. I think that’s important. 


[21:57] Andy Slavitt: So this idea of compromise is an interesting one here, right? Because in most situations with, again, parents who are still married, parents are divorced, this idea of compromise is what makes the world go round. But what I sense in a letter like this is people who are saying maybe this is a situation where I can’t compromise because, you know, there’s an absolute here about health. And the meeting in the middle, you know, means that my child is interacting and doing things that are unsafe half the time. That makes me unsafe. But I think maybe one way to look at it, given your idea, Lanhee, is can you sit down and create a list of activities that you both agree are reasonably safe? And likewise, you do the same thing with your kids. And the good news, though, I think, is that three or four months into the pandemic, there are a lot of things that I think we didn’t really know if they were safe or not that are pretty safe. Like playing outdoors, like gathering with small groups of people. Even some outdoor sports where before it was like, well, we can’t touch the same baseball bat because of, you know, it’s a surface. You know, we’re a lot less worried about surfaces now. We’re a lot more worried about aerosols now. I think these sort of orthogonal approaches, where you find you’re butting heads and there’s no room for movement, taking a different angle or different direction or having the conversation begin at a completely different place that builds some commonality and some positivity. I love Natalie’s suggestion earlier that you sit down every two weeks. Because things are changing so fast. And part of the problem is people are like, wait a minute, I thought I wasn’t supposed to do that. Oh, now maybe I can? Oh, I thought that was safe. Oh, now it’s not. Ah, now that I’m working, this is different because I’m coming into contact with different people. This the idea of sitting down every couple weeks and saying, OK, let’s put it all on the table again and see if we’re comfortable with more things or if there’s things were comfortable before  that are not. 


[23:59] Andy Slavitt: There’s one more version of this type of question, which is actually the reverse, which is people whose older parents are much more doubting or skeptical of the need to socially distance and wear a mask. And, you know, I’ve got an article in front of me from Health Affairs, which I know you’ve both seen, which says that over the course of the last couple months, masks have probably prevented 230,000 to 450,000 infections. Now, someone could also pull out a study, I’m sure, which says that masks don’t work if they want. And such as the nature of the Internet age when you can find anything you want to confirm your point of view. And all the things you both emphasized, you’ve mentioned reason and facts, but you’ve mentioned much more about understanding people and emotions. So, you know, shoving these reports in people’s faces may work for some people, depending how you do it, but maybe not for others. And here I get the sense that there may be two different TV news sources going on, where parents are getting their news from a conservative channel, and the kids are getting their news from a progressive channel or a liberal channel. But the issue here is that the older parents, the mother has pulmonary hypertension, diabetes and is on oxygen. The father continues to go to the office, grocery appointments, etc. And she still goes out into the world and gets haircuts and nails, etc. They live in Arizona, where the virus has not been taken seriously. These are their words. But I would say in general, that’s been the case up until at least recently. She is also trying to keep her distance from her parents. And she is trying to figure out how to be firm and give them the kind of response to let them know that by remaining in her own bubble, she is helping keep them safe. She wants to know if she should ask them to agree to live under those same restrictions in order to feel comfortable in letting them into her bubble. So opposite situation from the kids, but same kind of reality. Lanhee, any thoughts quickly on this one? 


[26:16] Lanhee Chen: Yeah, I mean, a few things. First of all, on the mask wearing, this has been the source of frustration to me because I think, you know, there are a series of things we can do in our lives. Some of them are harder than others. I understand that it’s very, very difficult to, for example, the issues that I’ve been raised around kids and social settings and wanting to go out and play baseball. I get all that. I fully understand the frustration there. Mask wearing is a relatively simple intervention in the grand scheme of things. And it should not be as controversial or fraught as it is and has become. Now part of that, I would say it goes back to the conflicting guidance we got at the start of this, and I understand why that was the case. But I think when I’ve talked to some people who have been skeptical about mask wearing, they said, well, look, a couple months ago I was told I didn’t need to wear a mask. Now I’m being told I need to wear a mask. What’s the deal? So I get that. 


[27:11] Lanhee Chen: But part of this is about communicating to those, and this includes parents, this includes older people who may themselves be at risk, that mask wearing is important because it is a relatively easy way to deal with some of the challenges created by this virus. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, I would say in your own behavior, in your own way that you deal with parents or deal with those who might have conditions, that makes your wearing of a mask even more important. And to model that behavior and to say, look, this is something that we’re going to do because we want to protect you. And really making clear that’s the reason. It’s not about protecting me as much as it is about protecting you. I think that’s an important message that oftentimes doesn’t get conveyed nearly enough. In terms of making restrictions, Andy, your thoughts about sitting down and saying, look, here’s a list of things that we think is OK, then the parents putting together lists of things that they think is OK and trying to figure out some way to triangulate to a set of activities that is OK, so people are comfortable. To me the idea of, let’s say, going out to eat on an outdoor patio or going to a store, but ensuring that you’re wearing a mask. I mean, those are things that to me feel a lot less risky than some of the things that are being mentioned. But again, you don’t really know until you sit down and look at the things that you know. Yes, I think these are OK. No, I don’t think these are OK. Having that same conversation, I think the same advice applies even though the situation is turned on its head a little bit. 


[28:41] Andy Slavitt: So if you had to convince someone to wear a mask who hasn’t wanted to, or if you haven’t, how might you go about doing that? What’s the best approach or approaches? 


[28:56] Lanhee Chen: Well, look, I have found, for a lot of people who don’t want to wear a mask, the idea of saying here are five more studies that say you should wear a mask, that’s not really that compelling to that group of folks. Because it is a lot less about what the science is telling them, or a lot less about what conventional sources are telling them. And it’s more just about their feeling or their sense that they’re being told what to do. And so, you know, rather than trying to give them the data, or rather than trying to give them a paper, what I try to do is I try to talk a little bit about why I make the decision. And when I wear a mask and when I don’t wear a mask and why it’s important. And helping them understand that they have some agency in this. I know that sounds a little bit ironic, but I think helping them understand how they have some agency in this decision. And making the right decision is entirely in their hands. I think what a lot of people object to that I’ve spoken to who are skeptical about this is the idea that they’re being told what to do. And so I don’t try to tell anybody what to do. I try to say, look, here’s why I make the decision I make. I would hope you arrive at the same decision that I would. If you want to see evidence or you want me to tell you more about the data I’ve seen, I am more than happy to tell you about that. You know, I think the approach that ends up being less effective, unfortunately, is the one where I say, well, gosh, there’s another study out. And look, you know, I’m hearing this today on the news. It’s really more about here are the factors that I’ve borne in mind. Is it an inconvenience to throw the thing on before I go out over time? Sure it is. But given the potential risks it avoids, for me, at least, I believe that’s a step I want to take and here’s why. Helping people to arrive at that conclusion on their own rather than shaming them, are guilting them or saying, look, here’s what the authorities are telling you to do. I think that, unfortunately, only provokes the opposite response. 


[30:46] Andy Slavitt: Right. So don’t make somebody feel stupid or box them in. Natalie, anything you would add?

[30:51] Natalie Davis: I think there’s two things I would say. Shame does not work. I think ever. But especially here. Making them feel stupid or that they are going against what experts are saying I think won’t work. And I think the other thing that’s going to be really hard is not taking it personally when someone decides not to. I think Lanhee’s entire approach is exactly right. Here’s how we can get together. Like the positive of this is that we get to hang out now. So just please put it on. But if they decide not to, it’s really hard, but it kind of has to be OK, that was your decision. This is my decision. See, in a year or see you if you change your mind or if we have a vaccine or, you know, there’s another way to get together. But if there’s a way to kind of divorce their action from how they feel about you is going to be really important for all of our mental health so we don’t have this resentment and anger and real corrosion of relationships occur. 


[31:51] Andy Slavitt: I’m going to add one thing to what you guys said, which is a great list. To tell people you love them. I mean, we don’t do it enough. You know, these are trying times. I guarantee you, the people that you’re talking to, whether they’re your parents or your kids or your friends, are going through as much stress as you are, different types of stress, maybe in different types of ways. But just remind people at the end of the day that these are all tactical judgments and they have nothing to do with how we feel about one another. 


[32:17] Natalie Davis: And that’s the great thing about setting boundaries is it’s like, hey, let’s do this so we can be together. Let’s do this so we have a long term, stronger relationship. And like you both have said, sitting down and talking through this, and this allows us to kind of come together. They’re hard conversations. We’re not used to having such frank conversations with our loved ones and setting up boundaries. But, you know, it’s because it’s out of love and getting together.


[32:44] Mara: Andy Slavitt, you’re my hero. And if you can help resolve this situation where we’re having trouble talking to someone who disagrees with our view, you’ll be a superhero. My name is Maia. I’m calling from Palo Alto. And here’s the situation. I am in my early 50s. And my husband just turned 60. I have a little bit of an immunocompromised situation. And we have a 17 year old son who is out and about, and not being as rigid on mask wearing or distancing or touching things that other people have touched as we would like him to. And we’re having trouble helping him see it our way. So if you have thoughts, suggestions, ideas, that would be great. Thanks for all you’re doing. Really appreciate it. Bye. 


[33:32] Andy Slavitt: Well, thanks for that question. And I think we covered some of this and maybe we’ll just do a quick go around. Zach, you’re 18. Maybe I’ll ask you after we go around a bit to give you time to think about it, what advice you’d have from a kid’s perspective? You know, I think a lot of the things we’ve covered which are finding some of the positive things that can be done might be one step there. Certainly calling on more patience than you probably feel like you have reservoir for is challenging, but important when you’re in these types of situations. If you’re immunocompromised, you should put your health first, and you should ask your son to put your health first. And if he doesn’t, then you should find ways to make sure he’s socially distances. I don’t know your living situation. Your household spread is real, but there are ways to dramatically reduce household spread by making sure that while the season allows it, you’ve got windows open. You’re not aerosolizing in each other’s face. You’re socially distancing at home, even while you’re asking your son to be safe. Zach, do you have any advice? 


[34:37] Zach Slavitt: Yeah, I’d say it’s most important that you have trust between the two of you, and that you know that for sure, that whatever they’re doing, they’re being honest about. And if they’re doing stuff you’re not comfortable with, maybe try and distance or have them stay at a friend’s house just for your safety. But the worst case would be if they’re lying to you, saying that they’re sent home and then going out and potentially getting sick.


[35:07] Natalie Davis: I’m curious if she thinks back at a time she’s talked to her kid and it resonated about safe sex, safe drug use, safe alcohol use. And if there are things that resonated with here’s an important moral or a thing that we believe and you also agree to wear condoms or not drink and drive. If there are ways that she’s connected with her son on those topics that feel like it could be in the same realms of safety and respect for the family. 


[35:35] Andy Slavitt: It’s great idea. Put it on the list. Put it in that frame. Know what works for your for your kid. Let’s go to a work situation, because people are now being called back to work. This person asks, “how do I talk to my boss and coworkers who refuse to social distance or wear a mask in the office? And we’re a government office. So I wear a mask. I’m basically protecting people who don’t give a bleep about me or my vulnerable kid who’s at home. I’m miserable and I’m going to quit if they make me go back to the office. And how do I have the conversation when I live in a rural conservative Jefferson County in California, where there are only 30 or so cases and everyone hates the governor? Let me know how that conversation should go.” OK, there are some politics involved here? This is someone who is in a place where there has not been a lot of spread. It sounds like somebody who has a vulnerable child at home. And this sounds like somebody who’s in a conservative area where the politics run against her point of view. So let me ask Lanhee, since the political and social and real world stuff and how it interacts is kind of what you and I find ourselves in the middle of at times. What do you think about this situation? 


[37:07] Lanhee Chen: Yeah, I mean, this is a very real challenge. So, first of all, I would say that, you know, making everyone aware, you know, her coworkers, presumably there’s a reporting chain. It sounds like she works for government, so that does raise the possibility that there are, you know, various offices or various functions and capacities, official capacities that have been put in place where she could, you know, register her concerns if this continues, particularly given the situation she has at home. But what I would come back to is a couple of things. First of all, we’ve talked about the importance of making clear to coworkers and to friends and to those who we interact with, look, here’s why I’m concerned about this situation. And yes, there are only, you know, 30 cases, and I understand that that may lead some to want to let their guard down. But if she is in a situation, it sounds like she is, where she knows that she is at risk, not because of her particularly, but because she’s got a child that is immunocompromised, making sure that people know that. So that it’s not just because I, you know, have extra anxiety or because I happen to care a lot more about this than others. But really making people understand, again, why it is that she cares and why does that it matters to her. And then what I would say beyond that is, you know, you never necessarily want to go to this, but availing yourself of resources in the workplace that exists to make it known that social distancing protocols do have to be observed in the workplace. There are requirements that municipalities and counties and states have put in place precisely to protect workers and to protect workers’ families for this very reason. Knowing that that is something that you might have to do, I think is a way potentially to address it. But I would begin by just sort of making people hopefully understand that this is not necessarily about just protecting you. It’s about protecting our loved ones. And I don’t think anybody would fault someone for that. And I would hope that that extra level of understanding that would come from that would be helpful in her situation. 


[39:16] Natalie Davis: I agree with everything that was said. And I think something that I am conscious of in all of these questions is also, though, not making it the person’s responsibility to not — I’m agreeing with Lanhee in this work situation. But she kind of also talks about it, you know, that the county doesn’t believe in this or the city doesn’t believe in this. You know, there’s only so much we can do to convince other people that this is a real threat and not to put the responsibility to feel like you have to make the whole city understand how important this is. I think what Lanhee said was like, this is why it’s important to my family. This is what it would mean for my family, but not this extra pressure of convincing every single person in the county to see this as something other than how they’re able to process it at the moment, given news that they have, or what the virus has done to that location. There’s a certain level of, you know, want to make sure that people aren’t feeling like the world is on them to change everybody’s minds, but to keep themselves safe and their families safe. 


[40:16] Andy Slavitt: Let’s hear in the reverse situation, you’re an employer, maybe your small business owner, but you’re in the position of power. And maybe you’re not 100 percent sensitive because you’ve never done it before to talking to your employees about that, what obligations, responsibilities, what steps should you take if the roles are reversed to make sure that you’re hearing people’s needs? 


[40:35] Natalie Davis: Yeah, I think it’s really incumbent on anybody in a place of power, and in this case as an employer, to allow for accommodations and nuance and not have black and white rules. Not make people prove that they have a child at home or a loved one at home, that would have deadly consequences from the virus. You know, we wrote a letter to our school district. Well, they asked for input. But, you know, we said we have four kids. If we bring them to school even one day a week, our risk of transmission is really high. And please don’t make us prove that and don’t make it mandatory that our kids come in. Let’s figure out what works for different families. So I think allowing for nuance and allowing for accommodations and for people to voice when they’re uncomfortable and not accepting any level of shame for people who may have to work differently or will wear a mask or won’t come to the happy hour where you have. There is zero tolerance on shaming somebody if they need to take precautions that make their families feel safe. 


[41:40] Andy Slavitt: On our show notes, we’ll have some resources up for people who do want to at the point where to Lanhee’s suggestion, they need to file official complaints, whether it’s to OSHA or civil rights organizations. This has been fantastic. And we’ve only gotten through some of the questions people have asked. I don’t think those are going to be all the answers to every problem that everybody faces. I do think that they’re helpful. I hope that they’re helpful to thinking through these kinds of very sticky situations and helping us all get through this. So, Lanhee, any closing thoughts from you?


[42:16] Lanhee Chen: You know, we’ve talked about not shaming people. I think that’s super important. I think there’s way too much of that in our dialog on lots of different angles. But helping people to understand why, for example, I make the decisions I make. Focus on you and what you can do to be part of a solution. I think those are important steps.


[42:34] Andy Slavitt: Great. Thanks, Lanhee. 


[42:35] Natalie Davis: Keep some extra masks in your back pocket to hand out if your loved ones show up without them. Make it a condition of hanging out and then have a great time. 


[42:50] Andy Slavitt: Natalie Davis from United States of Care, and Lanhee Chen from Hoover Institute at Stanford. It’s been so generous of you to share your thoughts and help with people today. I know people very much appreciate it. 


[43:07] Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavitt is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.


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