This is all good. Let’s embrace the freedom vaccines give us. But let’s be sensible about it.
Your vaccination, if you’ve had one, doesn’t mean the pandemic is over — and unfortunately, a good swath of the American public is refusing to get the vaccine. Others are immunocompromised, unable to get the vaccine for health reasons, or simply haven’t yet come to their place in the vaccine queue. At the same time, new variants threaten to push us collectively back on our heels — if we’re not careful now, this bright light we’re seeing at the end of the tunnel could be snuffed out.
But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued some helpful advice. You and your loved ones all got your final vaccine shot at least two weeks ago? Great! Feel free to gather with them in small groups, even inside. Hug your vaccinated mom. Smile, maskless, as you catch up with your vaccinated friends over coffee. Go on a first date with that guy you’ve been flirting with online. These are profound gifts after such an isolated year.
As with so much else in this pandemic, many Americans are largely following the guidance given to us by our elected officials. Unfortunately, those officials aren’t always listening to the best public health advice, and their decisions vary wildly by state. Across the middle and south of the country, elected officials have lifted mask requirements, even as CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky issues a powerful warning that a fourth stage of the pandemic could bring “impending doom.” President Joe Biden is begging state governors and city mayors to impose mask mandates to keep the public safe; so far, many of them are refusing.
Coronavirus cases in the United States seem, troublingly, to be going up. Every day, close to 1,000 people die from the virus in the US alone. Vaccinations in the United States are doing well, but that’s not the case around the world — and as we should have learned over the past year, viruses don’t respect borders. Across the world’s poorest nations, virtually no one has received the vaccine. That doesn’t mean Americans are uniquely protected — it means all 7 billion of the world’s people are collectively vulnerable.
It’s enraging that so many elected officials have entirely derogated their responsibility to the public. With that kind of shameful example, it’s no wonder so many Americans seem to have written the virus off as no longer a big deal or a simple inconvenience — as Baylor Women’s Basketball Coach Kim Mulkey did when she mused on Monday that players should no longer be tested for Covid-19 once their teams reached the Final Four, because a positive result might mean they wouldn’t play.
Her comments were revealing: They were focused entirely on the perception of a lost opportunity — players who wouldn’t get to play in an important game — rather than a serious health threat not just to the players themselves, but everyone around them. This has been a year of loss for all of us, but those losses are not of equal magnitude. Those of us who have lost our social lives, our workplaces, opportunities for pleasure, and even, on occasion, our ability to cope realize that we at least have our lives; more than half a million Americans have lost theirs. And many millions of Americans have lost friends and loved ones.
We are all ready to see these losses, from the smallest ones to the biggest, end. But we also have to keep them all in perspective, and be willing to tolerate some of the smaller inconveniences and frustrations — wearing a mask inside, getting tested for Covid before you can play in a sporting event, and certainly getting vaccinated — so that we can stem the tide of massive loss of life.
It’s a shame that our political leaders are not all on board with this plan, including those in Texas, where Baylor is located. Texas officials reopened the state and have refused a mask mandate, putting all of their citizens at risk. They certainly aren’t alone, and Americans now face a landscape in which one’s personal safety depends in part on which state they call home. And all of our health depends on whether the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations can get it together enough to make sure everyone has access to inoculation and care.
We all deserve better from those in elected office: We deserve state officials who will give their citizens science-based guidance that saves lives, and we deserve national ones who realize their duty to protect public health in a connected world extends beyond America’s borders.
What we actually have, though, is a hodge-podge of honest brokers and self-interested charlatans, and we are largely at their whims. So while we’re in this transitionary period we’re optimistic about what’s to come but the potential for losing it all is high, we have to continue exercising decency. Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci have both shared their concerns about the effects increased travel and spring break congregating, so use common sense. Wear a mask if you’re indoors or in close proximity to others. Just because your state is opening up doesn’t mean you have to be foolish. The CDC says indoor dining, especially without reduced capacity seating, is still higher or highest risk, so since it’s nearly summertime, skip it eat outside instead. Bar-hopping, concerts and clubs can wait. Limit your time inside with people you don’t know, and skip anything involving large groups.
And, of course, get vaccinated when you can and encourage others to do so, too. We’re so close. Let’s not let forfeit a bright future of dining out, dating, traveling, partying with friends and sending all our kids back to school because we’re tired of wearing masks in the grocery store.