On Saturday I walked with death.

The morning dawned bright, clear, a hint of summer warmth in the air. Magnolias and cherry blossoms were flying like fragrant snow, the wisteria and lilac blooming, adding subtle shades of lavender to tender new green of life reborn. We had been eager to enjoy a perfect day in early spring.

As on most mid-afternoons, my wife and I strolled in Central Park. We were masked, gloved, intending to keep our distance. But not yesterday. Impossible.

The park was packed. Some were masked, many bare-faced. Some were distant, most not.

The crowds spilled into nearby streets. People clustered before the few take out windows,  happily chatting, eager close personal contacts so long denied. Cars packed with people whizzed by — a nearly normal Saturday afternoon in the City.

But these are not normal times. This is lockdown time. Social distancing or stay at home time. Time to prevent the spread of a deadly virus that each day harvests its tragic new toll; on this sunny day, 437 will die from Covid-19 in New York City.

Yes, lockdown has slowed the spread, but it has not stopped contagion. We are learning as the days go by a tough lesson: America’s loosely enforced self-isolation is not the match of disciplined quarantines — at home or controlled — practiced in East Asian countries. We are flattening the curve, no more. Not to climb down from a sharp mountain peak but to arrive at the top of a broad mesa, its down-slope only a distant vision.

The infection smolders on… closing our businesses, cramping our lives — continuing on unless and until we do what is necessary.

We do know how to stamp out this fire. Others have. We can too.

Identify those infected (broadly available rapid virus detection)
Identify all those exposed (vigorous contact tracing)
Isolate those exposed (controlled quarantine)

Isolation of those exposed does not mean stay at home with others. It means isolation from all others for a minimum of two weeks in a supervised isolation facility, only contacting caregivers or other helpers who are fully garbed in hazmat suits. We are far from that. The words “controlled quarantine” are not even in our lexicon.

Until we follow these straightforward rules we will not trust our neighbors, our co-workers or our friends. How can we? Will they know they carry the virus? We will continue to feel the fear that caused my wife and I to scurry home after our glimpse, jolting, unexpected, of the crowded park.

Saturday had dawned bright, clear, a hint of summer warmth in the air. Magnolias and cherry blossoms were laying like fragrant snow, the wisteria and lilac blooming, adding subtle shades of lavender to tender new green of life reborn. We had been eager to enjoy a perfect day in early spring.

Now, I felt that we were walking with death delayed. That two weeks from now we will measure this spring idle in rising numbers of body bags exiting homes and hospitals. A foreshadowing of deaths foretold, the mortician’s harvest from a reopening without controlled quarantine.

A haunting image of the medieval, our walk with the Grim Reaper in the Park.

The post originally appeared on Medium.