Think About It: The eyes have it

“Bertha? Is that you?” The question came from the person standing at the other end of the wine aisle. He had just asked me if I needed help finding something. The person turned out to be a former colleague who retired and took this job for the health insurance benefit. We caught up a bit and he helped me locate the wine.

I could not help but ask, “How did you know it was me?” I was wearing the COVID fashion for the day – an oversized parka with big pockets to hold phone, wallet, hand sanitizer, extra gloves and a baggie of disinfectant wipes. I wore the tastefully appointed but bland face mask and my usual glasses. My hair has taken on a life of its own more reminiscent of a Farrah Fawcett bad hair day.

“I think it was your eyes,” he responded. Thank goodness it wasn’t the hair. I think it remarkable that he recognized me and doubted that I would be as astute with only eyes to see. At least, not until I’ve had more experience.

The incidence got me thinking about social life in the era of masks.

Just think about what it means for dating. The pandemic has changed the door to and course of romance. Will it just be long dry spells in which fledgling relationships are instantly doomed and new ones crossed by masks and COVID fashion? Will temperature checks occur before each date in which each party sits 6 feet apart?

And, just tell me how a potential dater will assess real or fake eye interest. Think about how much we assess people or responses through reading a face and body language, the latter being even harder to read cloaked by COVID fashion.

I miss faces

I miss seeing faces. I happen to be one of those annoying people who smiles at most people I see on the street or in a grocery aisle if we happen to lock eyes. It’s the rare person who doesn’t smile back and that’s OK since there’s no social rule that one must respond in kind.

Eyes above a mask can tell us some things about what is going on with this person. I nearly ran into another cart when I was focused on getting my cart to the red spot. A look at his smiling eyes told me he forgave me.

Not so much the look of disapproval I got from a person coming toward me. It was then I realized I was going the wrong way on a one-way aisle. “Oops, I’m sorry” wasn’t enough to change the look. Could be that my eyes didn’t show remorse and went to the default smiling position.

I should have been more mindful. My trips out for provisions have been marked by learning new ways of doing things. I am impressed with how quickly and completely my grocery store responded for the safety of its employees and customers. I do my best to thank everyone because I feel so grateful that I have a place to shop in relative safety.

I made a point of thanking the store manager, a cheerful sort that I often see out and about the store greeting customers, supporting staff and checking every area. I wanted to interview him but he demurred because very large corporations have an office to do press relations. Nice he thought of me as press.

I also thank all of us customers who are doing our best to be safe and to cooperate with the rules of life with the Coronavirus. I think we are wonderful to respond and be part of making the “stay at home” work.

Protecting vulnerable elderly

Of course, it could be that many of us are the so-called vulnerable elderly. Most of us like living and aren’t going to give it away to COVID-19 if we can avoid it. The fact of aging is that just about all our processes slow down as we age. Among them is our immune system which becomes less efficient as we age; it’s a natural part of aging.

The declining ability of an aging body to fight off infection and disease explains in part why people 60 and over are more likely to develop chronic disease than younger people.

And explains why we are more likely to have difficulty fighting off COVID-19. The presence of existing underlying conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity compound the challenge of surviving the invasion of the virus in our bodies.

To the date of this writing, Clallam County has recorded 17 positive cases of COVID-19. We don’t know the ages of those infected but we do know that the most recent was a woman in her 20s. Young people are beginning to learn they may fight the disease more effectively, but they are not invincible which, sadly, we’ve seen in several tragic deaths around the country. No COVID-19 deaths have been reported in our county.

Our public health officer Dr. Allison Unthank assures us that our “stay at home” program accounts for the low number, the majority of which were acquired outside the county. Our state was early to institute “stay at home” and social distancing. Gov. Jay Inslee acted quickly when a Kirkland skilled nursing facility became the nation’s first epicenter for COVID-19.

Now the state prepares to gradually open the state starting with recreational activities like golf, fishing and day trips to state park lands. These activities are possible while maintaining social distancing. Might be an opportunity for a date.

We, the elderly, can expect our “stay at home” or some modified version will continue for months for us. Effective and proven treatments must be in place and ideally an effective proven vaccine before we can feel safe. Scientists are working 24/7 to develop and test both.

The other factor in continuing a generalized and cautious “stay at home” is the lack of testing that can guide policies based on prevalence and hot spots. Public health and infection control experts soberly and repeatedly explain the need in what must be their version of screaming.

Testing didn’t catch on federally or hasn’t as of yet to the extent the country could safely open sooner.

But alas, this is where we are in our relationship with the Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic. I wish it were different; I want us to save lives and dating opportunities.

In the meantime …

I as a vulnerable elder am grateful to everyone who is working to keep me, my husband, family, friends and community safe. Because of you I can shop and learn the art of eye reading with you.

Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Reach her at