Thursday, April 15, 2021

Take me out to the (fill in the blank) -- April 15, 2021 column


Some writers liken people emerging from the year of pandemic sequester to the hordes of cicadas that soon will pop up after 17 years underground.

It’s a clever analogy, though not particularly apt.

The billions of cicadas that are about to inundate the East Coast, including Virginia, have no say in their behavior.

To attract females, males will make a “cacophonous whining like a field of out-of-tune car radios,” a Virginia Tech news release said. The insects will mate and then die.

Humans who have stayed home for the last year may feel they’ve been in prison. Some not yet vaccinated assume the worst is over and are taking risks, despite reports that COVID cases and deaths are rising again.  

Unlike cicadas, people can choose their next steps. The degree to which unvaccinated people choose to be in close quarters with many others and how they behave elsewhere will shape the “new normal” for all of us.

Nobody wants to return to lockdown status, as some European countries have. Many of us long for connection and crowds. Others have been OK with less going out and having an excuse to enjoy events on screens. Most of us are a little of both.

Many music festivals and band tours are postponed to 2022, but some  organizations are moving ahead.

Major League Baseball returned with fans in the stands for the first time in more than a year. Games runs to Oct. 3. The Minor League season begins in early May.  

The Kennedy Center is betting big that people are ready to sit shoulder to shoulder in large halls and watch theatrical performances. The center announced Tuesday a chock-a-block schedule of 12 musicals, including “Hamilton,” two major plays and other events in 86 weeks of theater from Oct. 13 to August 2022.

Patrons must wear masks, but the center is selling tickets at full capacity, meaning “there will not be physical distancing within the venue, and you will have patrons sitting directly next to, in front of, and behind you,” the website advises.

Airlines are ramping up flights and filling middle seats, believing people are eager to travel again – at least to some destinations.

And yet, global waves of coronavirus infections from variants threaten our mobility. Canada reportedly has more COVID-19 cases per capita than the United States. India just announced 200,000 new COVID-19 cases. Bangkok reported a surge in cases believed to stem from lack of social distancing at nightclubs. Several African countries report strong vaccine hesitancy.

With the delivery of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold here, herd immunity in the United States may be delayed. Officials believe herd immunity will occur when 70% to 90% of people have either been fully vaccinated or have antibodies from having contracted COVID-19.

My first outing to a big venue after being fully vaccinated came this week. I was among the 4,147 people who attended an Orioles game in person.

I wish I could tell you it was glorious to watch live baseball again -- and it was fun and diverting. The O’s beat the Seattle Mariners 7 to 6 with an exciting walk-off single by Ramon Urias.

But, honestly, it was also weird.

It wasn’t just that ticketing was digital, concessions were all cashless and no vendors lined the avenue into the ballpark. The Camden Yards ballpark was at 9% capacity, with most seats roped off to keep social distance. Bags were prohibited, I learned belatedly.

Masks were required and were supposed to be worn except when people were “actively eating or drinking” in their designated seats, although many fans interpreted those rules liberally.

Clearly, much effort went into making people feel safe. The Orioles Bird wore a mask with the slogan, “Mask up Birdland.” Orioles players have been vaccinated and are urging everyone to “Take one for the team. Get the vaccine.”

Guards, concessionaires and security personnel were friendly.  

“Welcome back,” guards said as fans entered the ballpark. “Welcome back.”

It’s one thing to attend an outdoor event with physical distancing and quite another to sit inside a closed hall or arena packed tight with people. Going back is a leap of faith.

But we’re on our way.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.



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