I HATE WEARING A MASK. I hate the fog on my glasses and the anxiety of realizing I’ve left it somewhere I’m not. Now what? Pull my sweater up over my face?
You’ve heard all this before, but now there’s progress. The CDC says we don’t have to wear the mask if we’re outside, fully vaccinated and not in a crowd. It’s a little bit of freedom from mass masking. This week Governor Cuomo and the governors of Connecticut and New Jersey said they are about to remove many of the restrictions imposed last year in the earlier phases of the pandemic, so that stores and restaurants and services like hair salons and gyms and sports contests, indoors and out, not to mention movies and all manner of businesses large and small can operate in ways something like they did before Covid-19 arrived.
This is welcome news. The governors mean well. They see an opportunity to balance what appears to be a waning threat to public health from the virus against the need for economic recovery and the return of in-person public education. They have good reasons to try this “opening up.” The public has equally good reasons to be wary.
People wear masks in Columbia County. Not everybody and not all the time. But it looks like a majority. Some wear their masks below their nose. Ick. Call them half-masked. Stand back and make sure your own mask fits snugly. The New York Times printed its map of “Covid-19 Exposure Risk” on Tuesday this week showing every county in the nation. The print version is tiny, but this county stands out as the only one between New York City and the Adirondacks that has a “high” risk of exposure to the virus. That sounds terrible except that all the other counties in our region are rated as having a “very high” risk of exposure. Good for us.
There were fewer than 10 new positive cases of Covid-19 in the county last week, leading to a 2% infection rate, according to Jack Mabb, director of the Columbia County Department of Health. Nearly half (49%) of county residents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and now the federal government has approved vaccinations for children as young as 12.
That sounds like we’ve got this disease under control. But it may be that we’ve got ourselves under control by adjusting our own behavior. We’re learning to starve the virus. And yet it survives.
Whatever success we’ve had here contrasts with the pandemic’s toll on countries around the world: India, Brazil, Mexico and even Canada and much of Africa and Latin America are afflicted by the virus that attacked us and by an unknown number of its variants.
We have come far from the disruptions and ignorance that accompanied the first wave of the pandemic last year. We know how to fend off Covid-19 and reduce—if not eliminate—the threat. But that only works if almost all of us agree that we must protect ourselves and our neighbors by getting vaccinated.
But already the county health department says that fewer people are showing up for vaccinations. So now, if people won’t come to the vaccination pop-up clinics, then the clinics will come to the people.
Some are frightened of the vaccine. They may have heard unqualified people warn of false associated with the two-shot vaccinations against Covid-19. The truth is that the vaccines are protecting millions of people like you from a serious and possibly fatal illness. There are risks in everything we do. Not getting vaccinated puts you at much greater risk.
And getting immunized says you know that fighting this virus is something you can do to protect not only yourself but your family, your friends and your community, as well. Are those people worth protecting? You know they are.
We’re all eager to celebrate freedom from this virus. The governor and his colleagues are taking a calculated risk so that we can reconnect with each other and the institutions we depend on. I wish them luck. But as much as I hate that mask, I’ve decided to hang on to it a little bit longer.