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How To Plague: How Can I Stop Feeling Angry At Everyone?

Our advice on how to deal with transferring children between co-parents, whether college seniors are fucked for jobs, and how to stop holding a grudge at someone who isn’t quarantining.

Posted on March 28, 2020, at 4:27 p.m. ET

Abbey Lossing for BuzzFeed News

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Hi, I’m Katie Notopoulos, a tech reporter here at BuzzFeed News, and I have no actual expertise in epidemiology, but I sure do enjoy telling people how to live their lives. Which means I’m the perfect person to tell you How to Plague. This is BuzzFeed News' advice column for these incredibly confusing times. The coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly, with new information coming out seemingly by the hour. I’ll try to help with your queries about social distancing etiquette and ethical dilemmas large and small, and call up some actual experts to weigh in when needed.

Send me your questions at katie@buzzfeed.com, or sign up for our text messaging service to send me questions that way.

I am a senior in college and now would be prime time to start looking for jobs. Do I look for jobs when I know so many industries are struggling financially? Or do I wait it out and hope that eventually I will be able to join the workforce a little later this year?
—Olivia, Ohio

Ouch. I’m sorry for this terrible timing. Graduating during an economic downturn is brutal — just ask the class of 2008. But what’s happening now looks to be much worse. More than 3 million people filed unemployment claims last week — far, far more than any week of 2008. If you had thoughts of working retail or waiting tables while you found a desk job related to your degree, those industries are also getting crushed.

In theory, there’s no reason NOT to start applying to jobs in your field right now. You might not find a ton of openings. But who knows, you might also find your dream job and get in just before everything really goes to shit! But if this turns into a lasting recession that drags on for a few years (and it very well could!), you won’t have much better luck trying your search in the fall. There will be fewer jobs, at lower wages, and with more competition. One option college students who graduate into a recession have taken in the past is ride it out at grad school and reenter the workforce in a few years with an extra degree. Think hard about this: The downside here is ending up saddled with endless student debt, especially if you’re considering a degree in a field that isn’t super lucrative.

Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist and director of research for the job search site Glassdoor, has already done some looking into this and said there’s some hope. He points out that some industries won’t be hit as hard as others. He predicts tech and professional services or consulting may be OK. “Job postings are falling overall,” he said. “However, some new jobs related to the pandemic are already starting to pop up (a silver lining). And if you ever wanted to work remotely — live in a cheap place but earn a big-city salary — the next few years will be a great time to do that.”

How do I get my two children to their dad for a custody exchange when we live in two different California cities? They're out of school for at least 7 weeks and we need to split their time between the two of us during that, but he's in San Jose and I'm in LA. Flying seems like a great way to infect everyone but cops are pulling over and ticketing drivers who are out for non-essential reasons.
—T.P., California

I have a 12 year old daughter who splits her time between my home and her father’s. I told her until either school is back in session or the stay inside order in my area has been lifted, she must stay where she is — which is at her father’s. I miss her terribly. Do you think she could come home as long as precautions are in place? Or should I continue to be separated from her?
—April, Tennessee

Currently, transferring kids between parents for custody is considered essential travel, so if you’re in a place that’s currently in lockdown, you can still make the trip to do the exchange (triple-check in your city/state before you leave the house, though!). And for what it’s worth: To date, Los Angeles has not been ticketing people who are out driving. So, yes, legally you can still do it. But should you?

You are not alone in struggling with this question. Millions of families where parents share custody of children between two homes are also trying to weigh the interest of safety versus sticking to a fair custody arrangement.

I talked to Erin Levine, family law attorney and founder of Hello Divorce, a resource site for divorcing couples. She told me:

There’s a legal answer and a mama bear answer (“mama” for purposes of this = gender-neutral). The legal answer is that parents that live near each other should probably continue to exchange their kids. At least that’s what most government websites are saying. The mama bear answer is go with your gut. Check yourself — are you trying to keep your ex away from the kids, or is there a real reason why the kids should stay with you (or them)? If there’s a serious reason not to (e.g., you have an autoimmune disease, your spouse has been exposed to COVID-19, they live with aging parents), you NEED to speak with your co-parent. If you have lawyers, have them negotiate, too. See if you can come to some sort of an agreement that keeps kids in contact with both parents (even if it's via FaceTime) and agree to make up time for the other parent when things return to a new normal.

Nicole Sodoma, a family law attorney at Sodoma Law, advises that you stick to the parenting schedule in place as best you can, barring any obvious reasons not to. If you believe your co-parent is putting the kids at risk, get a third party, like the child’s doctor, to weigh in.

Currently, most legal custody arrangements don’t have a special provision for something like an act of God pandemic, Sodoma said, but her firm will start including something like this going forward. “We’re not only going to see new provisions become standard, but we’re going to see that people are going to do things differently,” she said. “Courts are going to have to adjust how they deal with emergencies, even with limited personnel.”

How do you forgive (or at least stop internally griping about) the people in your life who didn’t take the pandemic seriously early on, especially those who put you and your family in danger? I’m thinking of: my spouse’s boss, who as late as the second week of March was resistant to letting people work from home (even though it’s a very easy industry to shift to remote work); the neighbor in the apartment building who coughed into their hand and touched the front doorknob; the acquaintance who shall remain nameless who suggested an inoculation party so we’d “all go home and cough for a couple of days and then be immune.” I have a long memory for grudges anyway, and self-isolation has only sharpened it; I’d rather not spend my precious time dwelling on this crap, and it would be nice to be able to be cordial with these folks once this is all over. But it’s really hard, and I’m so angry.

There are two layers to your question. The first is simpler; it’s about people who’ve exercised poor judgment, but maybe not because they’re rotten to the core, but because they’re just uninformed. The last month has been a tsunami of information, and yet also a desert of information. The big questions we want answered — When will this be over? How much danger am I in? — are still big fat TBDs. A few weeks ago, common wisdom was COVID-19 only affected old or sick people, but now we are hearing reports of young and healthy people getting sick and even dying. Our government leaders have waffled over how long and how severe this crisis will be.

People are desperate for information — and no matter how much news they’re consuming, they’re still searching for those answers. That’s why the rise of these bogus “I heard from a friend’s friend who works in the government” text messages are so pervasive. We want to feel like there IS someone who actually knows what the fuck is happening.

Depending on what cable news channel they watch, your spouse’s boss probably genuinely believed things would be fine and it was all overblown. It’s not their fault; they’re not a bad person.

Your neighbor sounds just forgetful or wasn’t on as high an alert as they should have been. We all make mistakes.

Your friend who suggested the immunization party, well, they have some odd worldviews, but clearly they didn’t know yet that COVID-19 could be deadly to anyone.

Forgive them their corona sins, for they know not what they do.

That layer is easy. The harder part seems inevitable. People you know and love will get sick, and they may die. How do you forgive the person you suspect transmitted the coronavirus to your loved one? How do you forgive your child for unwittingly giving it to your elderly parents and killing them? Your best friend for giving it to your spouse? How do you forgive yourself for giving it to someone else, even a stranger?

I can't answer those questions. Only you can. I hope you don't have to. ●

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

    Contact Katie Notopoulos at katie@buzzfeed.com.

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