the coronavirus diaries: week 65

The day after the CDC announced that kids ages 12-15 could get vaccines, I signed up my younger son for his shot. Once again, I had that same nervous feeling, and, once again, it was totally fine. The clinic was teeming with parent-child duos, and there was even a place for walk-ups. 

The next day, my son had a wee bit of stomach upset, but his arm hardly even hurt. He gets his second shot later this week which means that, when we head north on our family vacation, he’ll be nearly fully vaxxed, hip-hip!

Ultimate games (until I pulled my hamstring).

The day after the CDC’s sudden (and extremely clumsy) mask mandate reversal, I was itching to put on lipstick and go shopping without a mask. Better yet, I wanted to burn the masks. (Not really, but you know what I mean.)

But then I got to Old Navy and everyone was still masked, the “just virtual hugs for now” announcement still playing over the sound speaker every ten minutes, and I was like, Oh yeah, national chains can’t just turn on a dime. Darn. Guess this means Costco’s probably not putting out the samples just yet. 

Indoor meals! With (lots of) friends!

Back in the beginning, in an attempt to get everyone on board with mask wearing, a moral case was made for them: people who wore masks were thoughtful and caring; those who didn’t were selfish and rude.

There was good reason for this because, apparently, a whole bunch of people in our country no longer believed in science [cue the rumbling of a falling civilization]; how else were we to convince people to put the damn things on their faces if not through shame and blame?

But now that science has proven that fully-vaxxed people have a very low risk of transmitting and contracting the virus, mask-wearing advocates find themselves in a bind: if we give up masks, then how will anyone be able to tell us thoughtful folk apart from the careless maskless ones we so itched to challenge in the grocery store? Now I find myself feeling pressured to continue wearing a mask, not because it will protect me against the virus (thank you, vaccine) or because the people I’m with are compromised (they aren’t), but because if I don’t, then people might think I’m a bad person.

It’s ironic, no? We make a moral case to shame people into wearing masks and now we’re embarrassed to take them off. Oops.

Of course, it still totally makes sense for vaccinated people to want to continue wearing masks. From an article in the Atlantic (What Happens When Americans Can Finally Exhale by Ed Yong):

But it is also reasonable for people to want to continue wearing masks, to feel anxious that others might now decide not to, or to be dubious that strangers will be honest about their vaccination status. People don’t make decisions about the present in a temporal vacuum. They integrate across their past experiences. They learn. Some have learned that the CDC can be slow in its assessment of evidence, or confusing in its proclamations. They watched their fellow citizens rail against steps that would protect one another from infections at a time when the U.S. had already weathered decades of eroding social trust. They internalized the lessons of a year in which they had to fend for themselves, absent support from a government that repeatedly downplayed a crisis that was evidently unfolding. “We had no other protections all year,” Gold said. “We had masks. No one else protected us. It’s understandable that people would be hesitant about taking them off.”

From my writing nook at the coffee shop

Now, (semi-)post Covid, I keep hearing people ask, What’s it going to be like to be in a group of people without a mask? Will I be able to relax? Will I remember how to be behave? The emotional fragility has felt familiar to me, and then I realized why: it reminds me of how it feels to come home after living in another country

Reentry is tough. The whole world seems shrouded and otherworldly and, unsure of myself, I move gingerly. Each new thing — writing a check, driving a car, running the washing machine — evokes anxiety. Can I do it? Will I remember how? But as soon as I do the “new” thing I’m so worried about, like buy groceries with a credit card or check books out of the library, my confidence comes flooding back and I relax.

That’s how this stage of Covid feels to me. Each new thing — standing close to someone, waltzing into someone’s house, walking into a populated room without the “putting a mask on” motion, sitting outdoors with a crowd of people — is a little weird. I feel clumsy. I marvel. I get emotional. But I’ve also noticed that I’m acclimating. Quite quickly, actually. 

Thing is, with Covid, people are re-entering at different times and at different speeds. It’ll probably take weeks, if not months, for us to work our way through this stage of the pandemic. But then, I imagine, we’ll reach the tipping point where we look around and suddenly realize that more people than not are in society, doing more or less the same things they used to pre-pandemic.  

That’s my theory, anyway. We’ll see what actually happens.

At my kids’ concert, we sat physically distanced but, once seated, almost everyone removed their masks. At one point, we were even instructed to sing along. I settled for crying.

This same time, years previous: simple lasagna, brown sugar rhubarb muffins, the quotidian (6.1.15), a bunch of stuff, small pasta with spinach and bacon, three reds fruit crumble.

7 Comments

  • Coleen

    I think most people are leery of not wearing a mask. But just like when we first had to wear them, you get use to it. Sadly for me, I’m in chemo, I’ll be wearing a mask for a while longer, even though I’m fully vaccinated. Enjoy the new freedom.

  • KC

    If people keep wearing masks, then it’ll be less risky for those who couldn’t get the vaccine due to health reasons, less risky for those who have a blunted vaccine immune response due to immunosuppressant drugs, and we’ll just plain end up with fewer people dead. The “fewer people dead” is more likely to be in the thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands, but, like, I’m good with that as a reason to keep wearing a mask? (I mean, also allowing people with serious immune conditions who have been largely holed up in their houses for a year to feel safer getting haircuts, going in for non-acute medical appointments, maybe even picking out their own avocado, etc.)

    I’m not sure what percentage of risk seat belts, air bags, or bicycle helmets reduce per year, but from general numbers, I’d guess it’s *way* less than “everyone wearing masks before vaccination” but might be in the general vicinity of “everyone wearing masks after the percentage of the US population that’s going to get vaccinated is vaccinated”?

    Once we get down to zero transmission, though, eh, sure, take off the masks until people get sick again, probably? And outside or in groups where you know everyone’s vaccinated and/or know that no one is at higher risk, or in stores which have plenty of space such that people who are at higher risk can stay 6ft away, then sure! And I understand the logic of “follow the CDC guidelines for what the normal healthy population can do safely-ish.” But we’re still getting transmission – 90-95% is excellent but is notably different from 100%, and is way lower for people with reduced immune function, since their immune systems don’t raise as much of an uproar when they meet a vaccine – so, meh, I’d like masks for longer in settings where transmission is more likely. And then variants vs. vaccines. So I’d kind of like to keep masks for public, decently-dense indoor settings.

    (I’d also feel differently about this if we had higher vaccination rates. We’re in a red state, so it’s… not good.)

  • Thrift at Home

    Ah, you are so articulate with these feelings and sources of feelings – thank you. I knew I was feeling weird in the grocery store for not wearing a mask, but logically, I did not need to, but still. . . ? So thank you for naming all of that.

    Until my kids are fully vaxxed (and that will be a while for the kindergartner), we have not done inside meals with anyone. Ugh. I miss that.

  • Marie

    Where did the “I wear my mask for you, you wear your mask for me” thinking go? Did the science change and I missed it? I have a fair amount of faith in the CDC, but I’m worried they are focusing on epidemiological science and not behavioral science. I want everyone (not just me, vaccinated) to keep wearing a mask so that my immuno-compromised friends and young children are/feel safe in shared spaces, since we can’t tell the vaccinated from the un-vaccinated. If it’s still the case that MY mask protects you and YOUR mask protects me, it’s not good enough for those at risk to wear masks. And to me, if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that we’re fatally terrible with “make your own choice” guidance. I honestly would like to see a mask on everyone (in shared indoor spaces) until we’ve got a handle on variants and small children can get vaccinated. Because, please someone correct me if I’m wrong, it’s not enough for those I love who are at risk to wear masks. If they go in a shared space, they have to trust (despite all the recent evidence) that everyone else in that space is making a responsible decision.

  • Melissa

    Wondering if those that feel mask wearing for COVID 19 is extremely important ( or was), will now think it’s a good idea to just keep masking for all other viruses. I mean, if you’re immuno compromised, shouldn’t you be wearing a mask for all encounters? And if we then wear masks to protect those people and are irresponsible thoughtless jerks if we don’t, when will the mask wearing truly end? Have we moved to shaming those not wanting to get vaccinated?

    • Mountaineer

      The consequences for non-vaccination might be administered/interpreted that way. Kindness and generosity of spirit may help.

  • Lisa

    We are a fully vaccinated family. Our feelings are if there are no reasons for us to wear a mask, we don’t. There have been establishments that still require masks regardless of vaccinated status, so we wear a mask. Just don’t be a jerk. I’m also an introvert and don’t plan on getting up close and personal with strangers. I’m totally onboard with continuing to social distance.

Leave a Reply