Introducing a new weekly pandemic feature: Asking you what you’re comfortable with, and what you aren’t.
The signature statistic of our age, I’d argue, doesn’t involve viral loads, or community spreads, or cases-per-population-density. The statistic is the micromort.
I learned about the micromort back in May in a terrific New York Times piece by David C. Roberts. I’ve written about this before, so forgive me if I explain the micromort by quoting myself. One micromort, Roberts explains, represents a one-in-a-million chance of dying from an activity. If something has a one-in-a-million shot at killing you, it has a value of one micromort, and “the average American endures about one micromort of risk per day from non-natural causes,” Roberts writes. Everything you do that has a higher chance of killing you increases that baseline number of one micromort. It is a common tool in the field of risk assessment, particularly when it comes to life insurance.
Life itself comes with inherent risk. Your odds of dying from something — and the micromort measures only odds of dying, not odds of becoming ill or seriously injured— increase anytime you do anything other than stay in your house and watch television, on a regular basis. If you ride a motorcycle for six miles, you have increased your level of risk by one micromort. The same for driving 250 miles, or flying 1,000 miles. Certain activities that we accept as normal aspects of a regular life carry much higher micromort counts than we might think. Riding a horse is about two micromorts. (It’s actually just as dangerous as doing ecstasy.) Going under a general anesthetic is worth five micromorts; giving birth, according to Roberts, is a whopping 210 micromorts.
What is most important about micromorts is that they specifically gauge risk. This is helpful, because “gauging risk” is essentially what we all have to do, all day, every day, now more than ever. Should I go to the grocery store? Should I send my children back to school? Should I go out to eat? Decisions that in the past were routine, even unconscious, have become moral dilemmas, life-and-death decisions we must constantly make for ourselves and our loved ones. The only way to be truly safe is to stay indoors, by yourself, interacting with no one. Which is a lot easier to do for one month than, say, eight. Or 18.
So what’s safe? What risks are you willing to take? How comfortable are you taking on extra micromorts? We are always weighing these questions, but we rarely discuss them. So, for the next few weeks, every Friday, we’re going to tackle them, one-by-one. We’ll look at the positives, and the negatives, of regular activities that we all took for granted before the pandemic and now must wrestle with every minute of our lives.
I do not want this feature to consist of me telling you what is safe and what isn’t, because I do not know what is safe and what it isn’t. I want you to tell me what you’re comfortable with, and why.
This week’s question: Would you go to a sporting event? Many, many sporting venues are open for fans across the country. Here in Athens, Georgia, where I live, there were nearly 25,000 fans at Sanford Stadium to see the Georgia Bulldogs stomp the Auburn Tigers last Saturday. Many NFL stadiums are opening at reduced capacity, and nearly all college football stadiums are; this week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced that he would allow full capacity at stadiums in his state. The World Series and the League Championship Series in baseball will have fans in attendance. People are going.
But would you? Should you? Email me at email@example.com your thoughts and answers to the question of the week. You can also leave your responses in the comments, or by using this form:
I’ll cull the best answers and they’ll serve as the backbone of the next Friday’s piece. So tell me what’s on your mind. I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I need yours.
Will Leitch will be writing multiple pieces a week for Medium. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.