As the saying goes, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Sadly, the fat lady died last week, gasping out her last breath. This leaves the over-ness of the plague somewhat ambiguous. Or just plain old subjective. Is it possible that the worst is behind us? Can I now go out among the masses and do some sweaty slam dancing to my favorite 80’s punk rock tunes? There are a few factors to be considered when proclaiming victory over the evil COVID, so I’ve been in a retrospective mood about the whole mess and what I’ve learned from my participation in its demise.
Back in the nostalgic-worthy, pre-pandemic months of 2020, I wasn’t worried about killing my friends with the beery tang of my breath as I sang, danced, played board games or grabbed another helping of baba ghanoush at the buffet table. Then, the stay-at-home order brought minor shockwaves throughout my tiny collection of pals and acquaintances. I didn’t think it would last long. The rapidly heaping body count began to contradict me in a most annoying way.
The year 2020, in no uncertain terms, sucked. In the beginning, we were asked to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. Judging by the reactions of some folks, you would have thought citizens believed they had been asked to flagellate themselves, then throw gasoline on their open wounds and light a match. Most people were able to withstand two weeks of this tortuous punishment before their righteous indignation spurred them on to the coffee shop or local bar to partake of their favorite legal drugs. Whatever our addictions were, we needed to pacify them and quell the negative stupefaction caused by this predicament the best way we knew how. Some of us were better at it than others.
Social isolation manifested itself as a major concern with regard to our mental health. Before the crisis, only social workers cared about the limited daily connections of the poor, elderly or disabled members of our community. Suddenly, it was the cause du jour, affecting all of us. Too much isolation might damage our children and keep us from showing off our designer clothes. Zero human interaction for a long period of time could lead to self-discovery, and sweet Jesus, we certainly can’t handle that. Being stuck in the house with our spouse, roommate, children, dog without a break could potentially break us. Warning: Being alone for too long will de-evolutionize us back to grunting and using stone implements. Then came Zoom.
I’m not quite ready to say that Zoom and other video communication programs saved us as a species, but it really, really helped. I survived 2020 because I didn’t go out and swap disease-laden breath with strangers. I thrived because I learned how to set up a Zoom conference and invite my friends to communicate with me via seeing and hearing each other on a screen. It was the year of Zoom bombing by cats and precocious kiddies, 40-minute get-togethers with our pals and a gigantic revolution in work culture. People suddenly realized they could work from home with the option of living anywhere. Companies agreed, and the next great migration began. For some employed individuals, the budget shifted when they realized they no longer had to pay for that expensive apartment in the big city. They moved in droves to quaint little towns, sprawling suburbs and anywhere they felt would enhance their quality of life, as long as it had adequate Wi-Fi connections.
As 2020 dragged on, politicians tried to convince us to get back out there and spend money to keep the economy afloat. Some even suggested that elderly people should sacrifice their own lives for the sake of keeping rich people from losing money…er, I mean, for the sake of their grandchildren not losing interest in keeping rich people from losing money. Enter the mask. It took a while for scientists to delve through all the death records of fallen victims and noses/throats of the yet-living contaminated masses in order to determine that the killer bug was strictly airborne. If we all wore masks when out in public, it was possible we could stop this bugger in its tracks. Some people didn’t want to send this virus packing if it meant they had to actively participate in its complete annihilation. Perhaps they were members of PETA or followers of the Jain religion and practiced ahimsa (non-harming) toward all beings.
The Mask Wars began. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a world where stubborn people insisted on continuing behavior that was detrimental to themselves and everyone they loved. Alcoholics and smokers and Hollywood stuntmen aside, most mentally-stable people wish to keep themselves safe from death and destruction. Unless they feel the need to make a whiney proclamation like “You can’t make me!” As all the parents out there know, you can’t argue with a three-year-old. All the toddlers of the world insisted on gathering in large groups in acts of defiance of…what exactly, I don’t know. People who worked in hospitals were not enchanted by hooking up more self-inflicted victims to a dwindling supply of ventilators.
As I started venturing out into the world again, I wore a mask anytime I went inside a public space. In my county, this was mandated. When I walked into a store where the staff were mask-less, I walked right back out again. This was my very polite “Fuck you” statement. Even though I knew my quiet righteous indignation would have zero impact on anyone who bucked the system in the name of infectious individualism, I issued the appropriate metaphoric gesture anyway. I doubt they missed that $24.30 I was going to spend in their store, but I was committed to seeking out an enterprise where I was more precious to the proprietor.
As the year passed, we struggled along, coping with the risks, both real and imaginary. The scientific community tested some vaccines on willing lab rats, aka human heroes. Near the end of the year, three vaccines were approved for human consumption and made available to all the folks at highest risk. Snug in our little mountain home, my husband and I waited. We continued to visit with friends outside, wore our N95 masks and kept our distance from strangers and other potential careless contaminators. We waited. We were content to tread water, keeping ourselves afloat while we bided our time in anticipation of the coming of spring and liberation. The pathogen, bringer of death and halter of parties was about to submit to the will of human ingenuity.
Spring of 2021 was that magic moment we all had been hoping for. We squirmed like excited children on Christmas morning, all aquiver with expectancy. Humanity lined up in droves to get the shots of freedom. We danced, we sang, we ate inside restaurants until the bad news reached our reveling ears. Post-vaccinated, we could still get a mild version of the damn thing and pass it on to unsuspecting recipients. The summer brought everyone out of their holes into the sunlight and among the masses, which posed a huge problem for the unvaccinated. They were also celebrating the lifting of mask mandates and reopening of establishments where people tended to gather. Infection rates began to rise and people continued to die. Oops! Our rejoicing came to a screeching halt. Efforts were renewed to get more of the population vaccinated and boosted. I had a total of three shots by November, which I felt would keep me from inheriting the worst of this nasty virus. Indoor mask mandates were renewed and social distancing was once again being practiced in public places by the more prudent of our population.
Testing trended. The long lines for vaccinations became long lines for testing. When the end-of-year holidays were looming, we realized it wouldn’t be cool to kill Grandma after having bought her a nice sweater for Christmas. The world divided into the cautious and the callous. Separation from loved ones was no longer being tolerated by most of our population. To test or not to test became the challenge of the season. People could look and feel perfectly heathy yet carry this monster into the homes of the very people they wanted to protect. So, they tested (or didn’t) before boarding the plane, driving the distance or Ubering to Mama’s house for the feast.
January 2022 was dismal, as a great number of unvaccinated people led the charge to heaven. Letting our guard down was a disaster. People seemed to have finally gotten the message and began taking more precautions. Six weeks later, our county mask mandate was lifted as the number of infections fell back to a level we had previously considered unacceptable but were now happy about. The Omicron variant, it was argued, wasn’t a killer, and vaccination rates were making baby steps upward. And people wanted to go out without mouth and nose covering accessories. This is where we are now. Slam dancing will soon be making a comeback, but I’ll stick with pogo-ing in my living room…for now.
Your punk rock girl (behind the Baby Yoda mask),
Yes! We still wear our masks when entering restaurants. We then remove them to eat and drink. Are we ok? So far, we are! Last night I didn’t see any other person doning masks. I love this word usage “ infectious individualism.”
We are all navigating this stuff with our own judgement and comfort level. I have not eaten in a restaurant yet, but as numbers trend downward, I may just go on out there and party on.
This was an excellent column Cheryl
Thank you my friend!