Thursday, March 4, 2021

Real world beckons after `second one,' but . . . --March 4, 2021 column


“Well, I’m glad you got your second one,” the woman wearing a mask and walking on the sidewalk said to the maskless man smoking a cigarette on his front porch.

In years past, this snippet of conversation would have been mysterious. What “second one” did the man get and why was the woman glad?

Now, anyone overhearing such an exchange, as I did on a walk in Alexandria Wednesday, knows exactly the subject. He’d received his second COVID-19 vaccination.

“But we’re still going to wear masks and socially distance,” she said. “Right?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “This is my big thing: I stand on the porch and smoke a cigarette and feel like I’m in the real world.” Then he chuckled and stubbed out his prize smoke.

Leave aside the irony of someone getting fully vaccinated against COVID while continuing to indulge in a nasty, health-defying habit. More Americans these days are sharing the joy of the jab and new-found optimism.

I had gotten my “second one” earlier that day. The sun was shining, it was early March and no snow or ice was in the forecast. What’s not to like?

We all feel the urge to return to the “real world,” however we define it. We yearn to see friends, go to dinner and concerts, shop and travel without worrying that these simple activities could literally cost us, our family members or loved ones our lives.

Ironically, some governors who are going the full-open may make it less appealing, not more, to visit their states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced that as of this coming week schools and all businesses of any kind in the Lone Star State could fully reopen at 100% capacity, and masks would no longer be required.

COVID has not gone away, but the time for state mandates has, he said. Businesses can still require or ask customers to wear masks, but the message from the governor is clear: Be there, be bare or be square.

We’ve seen how well de-regulation worked for the Texas power grid during the winter storm disaster, which is to say not at all. Many residents there are still without potable water.

So now the state, where fewer than 2 million of its 29 million residents are fully inoculated against COVID, is de-regulating the pandemic. Mississippi’s governor and others are making the same decision.

“We cannot have an endless shutdown,” said Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican.

Public health experts say fully reopening as if life is back to normal is risky at best. They are pleading with residents to stay masked, keep social distance and wash their hands. 

President Joe Biden blasted the decisions to reopen in uncharacteristically harsh terms.

“The last thing – the last thing – we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask. Forget it. It still matters,” Biden told reporters.

Everyone is sick and tired of being home. Millions of Americans are suffering economically, and we all want to get out into the real world.

But even being fully vaccinated is not a Get Out of Jail Free card. You can still get sick, though likely not as sick; it’s uncertain whether you can spread the virus.

Americans must choose for themselves whether to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control to stay safe or throw caution to the winds in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Governors believe opening their states will juice the economy. But moving too far too fast could have the opposite effect. It could discourage tourism and usher in a third wave of the deadly virus.

I was born in Texas and enjoyed visiting the spectacular Big Bend National Park four years ago. Since well before the pandemic, I’ve wanted to visit my late mother’s tiny hometown in Northeast Texas. I didn’t get around to it, and the pandemic stopped everything. I thought this summer might be a good opportunity.

But now is not the time for me to be a tourist in any state that’s tempting fate. I’ll   wait, thank you.

©Marsha Mercer 2021. All rights reserved.

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