On Saturday, my wife and I had dinner with some dear friends. We’d all had our vaccinations, and we were all past the waiting period for maximum immunity, so we ate inside their house. We even hugged hello and goodbye. Nothing about the evening would have been in any way remarkable two years ago. And nothing about it would have been remotely possible since the advent of covid-19 restrictions and precautions last spring.
The next day, I played golf — badly, as usual — with another old friend. He, too, was fully vaccinated, so we had no qualms about driving out to the course together in one car, just like we used to do. Inside the clubhouse, adhering to the policy set in place by management, we wore masks. On the course, once again maskless, we were grouped into a foursome with two other guys we didn’t know. I didn’t think to ask if they were vaccinated until we were on the third hole — they were — because I knew that any risk in the great outdoors is minuscule. Also, the fact that we were all out of practice, spraying our shots in multiple directions, enforced a kind of accidental social distancing.
And soon, we’re going to travel for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. We’ll happily mask up at the airport and on the plane, as required, but we won’t be in a constant state of high anxiety, and we won’t freak out if someone nearby happens to cough. And when we get to our destination, we’ll promptly unmask, because the friend we’ll be staying with is fully vaccinated, too.
I realize my feeling of hard-earned liberation is not necessarily universal. My friends and family and I have tried as hard as we could to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, government-imposed mandates and restrictions put in place by private businesses throughout the pandemic — and we’ve done so enthusiastically, not grudgingly.
We tried to err on the side of caution. We tried our best to follow the science, understanding that the covid-19 virus was so new that scientists’ recommendations would evolve as they understood more about the pathogen. We got vaccinated promptly and encouraged others to do the same. So now, with the numbers of new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths finally plummeting, it feels to me as though we’ve worked hard to earn the personal freedom we’re regaining.
It’s important to note that we were able to make these choices to stay safe. I’ve been able to work from home. There was not a single day when my family worried about putting food on the table or keeping a roof over our heads. If I were unemployed and fearing eviction, if I faced possible bankruptcy because my small business didn’t survive, or if I worked in a service job and had to trust customers to make decisions that would keep me safe, I doubt this moment of eased restrictions would feel much like any kind of victory.
This return to normalcy might be a reprieve, and the world will inevitably be different in months and years to come. Until vaccination is universal and the outbreaks in India, Brazil and other countries are under control, we will all remain at risk of variants that could evade or overcome the vaccines.
Mask-wearing likely will be fairly commonplace in U.S. cities, the way it has been in some Asian metropolises for many years. If I have a cold or the flu and I have to take public transportation, why shouldn’t I wear a mask to protect others? It’s a shame that the mere sight of masks appears to drive some people crazy, fueling unnecessary conflict.
We’ll deal with all of that later. For now, join me in celebrating the return of the handshake and the hug (when appropriate). I used to take human contact for granted. I’ll never underestimate the pleasures of a friendly dinner or a round of golf again.