By MARSHA MERCER
“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
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
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.