A lot has been lost in the past year. Among the losses: people’s sanity.
Consider this bit from Joy-Ann Reid’s MSNBC show earlier this week, in which she discusses jogging outside while wearing two masks after she’s been fully vaccinated:
Or, if Fox is more your flavor of pundit-heroin, start with this Tucker Carlson clip. Here the Fox host tells viewers that if they see children wearing masks while playing outside it is morally equivalent to witnessing child abuse. “Call the police immediately,” he insists.
Like almost everything these days in American life, it feels as if we are stuck between two deranged and morally confused options.
No, you do not need to wear a mask, let alone two, when you are a vaccinated person outside jogging. As a rule of thumb, you are incredibly unlikely (it’s almost impossible) to get Covid-19 outside in open, uncrowded spaces. There are very rare exceptions, like standing in a very tight circle and singing loudly with other people for hours. Going for a solo run in a park is not among them.
And no, you absolutely should not call the police or Child Protective Services on parents who still mask their children anymore than you would call the police or Child Protective Services on a child who is wearing elbow-pads while they are running. You might think it’s unnecessary, excessive and a sign of helicopter parenting. It probably is. Here’s what you can do instead: Mind your own business.
Masks, like shopping at Whole Foods or eating at Chick-fil-A, have become a totem in the culture war. The writer Zeynep Tufekci, who has consistently gotten Covid-19 right — she urged people in early March to mask up, while insisting that shutting down beaches and parks was foolish — put it this way a few weeks ago:
It’s pretty clear that they have also become a talisman of sorts, essentially signaling belonging in a tribe, rather than a public health tool that’s quite useful under certain circumstances. It’s weird to see the mask debate come full circle. Now I get lectured for not talking about masks, even if the article is about vaccination, and people openly declare that they will continue to double-mask for a year even after being fully vaccinated — and for saying that on social media, they receive many likes and retweets.
It’s enough already. It’s time to get back to normal, or at least normal-ish. Alas, the new CDC guidelines seem to require a PhD to parse, so herewith are a few simple rules for being safe, kind and courteous, while avoiding making an ass of yourself.
1. Get the vaccine.
This week I got my second Moderna shot. I was awake in the middle of the night on Wednesday, feeling sick and a bit sorry for myself when a text came through from an old friend that her former college roommate — a wonderful writer and a very sweet man — died of Covid-19 in Delhi. He was 35 years old.
We are privileged beyond belief to have the opportunity to get inoculated against this disease. If you don’t buy that, or you feel understandably frustrated about the rollout, just take a minute and read about what people in India are living through at the moment and tell me we aren’t damn lucky. A lot of smart people like to believe that America is impossibly corrupted, the worst of the worst, so it’s hard for them to come to terms with the truth: We are extraordinarily blessed.
If you remain hesitant, because you have lost faith in our public institutions and trust in our politicians, consider the data. Out of 87 million Americans vaccinated as of April 20, there have been only 408 serious cases (hospitalization or death). As David Sacks points out: “These are odds of 0.00047 or 1 in 213,000, which is rarer than being struck by lightning.”
I repeat: get vaccinated. And if you like, take a moment to thank God or the miracle of modern medicine that you have the option. Then donate to help alleviate the tragedy unfolding right now in India.
2. If you don’t want to go to the dinner, don’t go. Let the rest of us enjoy ourselves.
To my mind, one of the best essays written during this fiasco of a year was by Dr. Norman Doidge, who explained in Tablet what lockdown does to us psychologically. “Lockdown bequeaths us a map,” he wrote, “in which my little home, my apartment, my room, the world inside is good and safe; but the outside, is nothing but dangerous. It begins by physically enclosing us, but ends by mentally enclosing us. We may not be paranoid (because there truly is a virus out there), but we nonetheless start living as paranoids do. Lockdown forecloses unlockdown.”
In other words, once we are stuck inside it is very hard to unstick ourselves. I’m trying to remind myself of this truth when I find myself wanting to berate friends who, fully vaccinated, look at me with crazy eyes when I suggest coming over for dinner. PTSD might be too strong a descriptor, but it’s not so far off either.
So try to have empathy for friends like these, who are having a hard time unlocking lockdown. But also: it’s ok to ignore their judgment and not waste a moment second-guessing having dinner with other vaccinated friends.
3. There is no virtue in perma-masking.
The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for the Amazon Prime elite. It allowed people to feel virtuous for staying home. Watching Netflix was noble. Being anti-social was virtuous. Ordering DoorDash was saving the world. The pandemic ending takes away that easy virtue.
And people like being able to shame others. Catching people unmasked at the beach, spreading their photos, and talking about how bad that is — well that was a satisfying hobby for many this year. This group doesn’t want to go back to offices. They don’t seem to care if synagogue and church come back. That’s fine — they prefer to live mediated by screens, and they can live that life. But don’t let them force it on you.
There is no virtue in being permanently masked. There is no virtue in demanding zero risk. If there is, we wouldn’t never jump in a swimming pool or get into a car. Get vaccinated, and then get used to wearing hard pants, brushing your hair (and teeth) and meeting friends outside of Zoom.
4. If you are in a store or a restaurant, suck it up and follow the rules.
I spent the beginning of the pandemic spritzing down every box of pasta that came through the front door, but it’s now abundantly clear that surface transmission isn’t a thing. There is no reason that the clerk working the check-out line at my grocery store needs to disinfect the conveyer belt between each customer. There is no reason the Italian restaurant we love around the corner is still insisting that we pull up the menu via QR Code.
But you know what? It’s just not worth getting into it. It’s a good bet that anyone working a job in the service industry had a very hard year. Abide by the rules, even if they are weird, be polite and always tip at least 20 percent.
5. You’re not crazy: the public messaging on this has been a disaster.
It is impossible to overstate the historic level of governmental stupidity over the past year. There are so many examples to choose from. What’s worse? Fauci’s noble lie about herd immunity? Public health officials urging us early on not to wear masks? The delay of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? The decision to let tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca rot in warehouses rather than send them to India?
The hygiene-theater we witnessed at this week’s State of the Union is up there. If I can walk into Wilson’s Pharmacy in Pittsburgh without an appointment and get a shot five minutes later, and if the federal policy is that every American over the age of 16 can sign up to do the same, I have a hard time believing that every single person present in the chamber for Joe Biden’s speech wasn’t vaccinated weeks ago. Yet we watched the spectacle of distancing and masking and elbow-bumping among the most powerful people in the country.
As Dr. Leana Wen, the former head of Planned Parenthood, pointed out in the Washington Post, “President Biden missed his biggest opportunity to reduce vaccine hesitancy. The problem wasn’t the content of his speech — it was the setting.” She continued: “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was six months ago, before Americans had access to safe, highly effective vaccines.”
The message should be extremely simple: get vaccinated and get back to normal life. Google nailed it in this ad:
I’m in Pittsburgh at the moment because my sister, Molly, gave birth to her first child. Yesterday morning, my family gathered — four generations of us — for her son’s bris. We were all fully vaccinated. And there was nothing like seeing their faces.