At least we don’t have communal bed bugs

Posted 12/17/20

I still remember the first time I saw one of my neighbors at the beginning of the stay-at-home order. We caught sight of each other near our mailboxes and had a glance of shared understanding. It was …

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At least we don’t have communal bed bugs

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I still remember the first time I saw one of my neighbors at the beginning of the stay-at-home order. We caught sight of each other near our mailboxes and had a glance of shared understanding. It was so nice to see another human being.

A few years ago, I dealt with another drastic life change after a bed bug outbreak. I experienced the agony of disinfecting everything, checking and re-checking that I wasn’t spreading the bugs around and avoiding other people entirely. As a result, I felt isolated from pretty much everyone.

The beginning of this pandemic felt like communal bed bugs (just don’t try to picture that). Everyone was going through similar struggles, and we understood each other.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the mentality shifted from “we’re all in this together” to “stop making stupid decisions,” but I do remember the day when a Jordan Lake access point was so crowded that I could barely see the sand. I passed by hordes of teenagers not wearing masks and felt their stares when I wore mine. They could definitely see the judgment in my own eyes.

Now, I’ve had friends and family test positive for COVID-19. I’ll walk out of my place and immediately have to pass a neighbor not wearing a mask. I can feel my own mind snapping to judge the other person, even though we’re far enough apart that it shouldn’t matter. I glare at the people heading out all dressed up, assuming that they’re going to a bar even though maybe they just wanted to look nice. I’ve even had a sinking feeling in my stomach when watching crowded scenes in movies.

We all have dealt with the effects of COVID-19, but some of us experienced small raindrops while others of us experienced hurricanes. We are comfortable with different levels of community immersion, sometimes circling back and forth depending on potential exposures. I am writing this week’s piece from home quarantine, while you may be reading it in a public space. We are not all in this together, and with the ongoing conflicts around mask wearing and vaccines, I don’t think we ever will be.

If there is one thing these experiences have taught me, it is that it is easier to place blame than to empathize. Even someone who never puts their suitcase on a hotel room floor can get bed bugs. Even someone who follows health guidelines can test positive for COVID-19. We are quick to point fingers at other cogs in the machine while we should be asking why the machine is running this way.

So good night, sleep tight — and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

(P.S. — Is there a topic you want to read about? Email me at

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and can be reached at


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