Commentary: ‘Boomers’ need to flex their electoral muscles

Bill Walczak

My gray hair has grown out to a length not seen since I was in my teens, and I’ve gotten used to the appellations for my grandfather status. But I never really felt old until the coronavirus. Being placed in a category that carries a serious risk of death just because I’m over 60 has had an impact on me, and, from talking to other boomers, on our entire generation. I lost a very close friend a few weeks ago whom I had known for nearly 60 years. He was a nurse who did a home visit to an elderly man who was feeling ill after visiting his wife in a nursing home. A week later, both the man and his wife were dead. Two weeks later, my friend was dead at age 66. He had no immune-compromising illnesses.

I retired last August and qualified for Medicare, but I felt pretty good, got married in January, and was looking forward to a new writing career with plans for more travel. I had spent many years working on various projects in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Vietnam as part of my work at Codman Square Health Center, and had developed friendships with people in those countries whom I planned to visit.

But I won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon.

COVID-19, referred to disparagingly by some young people as the “boomer remover,” has terrified many in my generation. It drives us to distraction seeing the mostly younger white men who run or ride by us not wearing masks. Going into a grocery store takes an act of courage. The governor finally ordered masks to be worn this week, but we can’t imagine why it took so long. We do not visit our grandchildren because we don’t know if they are asymptomatic carriers.

The notion that our elected officials are planning to reopen the economy in the next month seems crazy to us. Reopening should follow getting control of the virus, not precede that control. Knowing that a vaccine is a long way off means that, to feel safe, we need to do a testing program on a massive scale, on a regular basis, perhaps every few days for those who want to go back to work or school, and quarantine and contact trace every person who is positive. This plus universal mask wearing would go a long way toward allowing us to feel safe, but to date we don’t have a reliable test and, beyond that, the ability to massively test. And what do we do if other states refuse to do the same thing?

The country seems to be moving toward opening parts of it based on the degree of viral infection. My great fear is that the reopening will be not just be geographic. When I arrived in Dorchester in the early ‘70s, there was a great concern about elderly “shut-ins,” essentially old people who seldom left their homes because they lived in fear. Kit Clark Senior Services was created partly to deal with the shut-in issue in Dorchester. If we can’t get to a plan for everyone feeling safe, I fear we will wind up with a new generation of shut-ins.

We have an understanding of what it will take to allow a reopening. Why is it taking so long to figure out how to massively test? Our country has the greatest number of cases and deaths, but our national effort is about affixing the blame for the outbreak of the virus rather than making it go away. It’s time for “boomers” to exercise our electoral muscle before we can’t.