I am extremely grateful to the fellow residents of my state and my community for being so diligent about getting vaccinated. At this point, more than 90 percent of residents in my town eligible for vaccination have received at least one shot. That is a reassuring statistic when thinking about whether to resume pre-pandemic life.
Everything has almost returned to normal here. The state of emergency was lifted earlier this month. Restaurants are filling up again. People are flocking back to cafes. Traffic patterns have sufficiently reverted to the mean for me to be irritated with other drivers. Masks are still being worn in some supermarkets and department stores, but with each passing week, the fraction of those wearing them is falling. Like many, I will wear them in a shop as an exercise in manners if a critical mass of others is doing so. If at least half of people do not have them, however, I am delighted to go maskless. My hunch is that by next month, the mask-wearing will be down to fewer than a quarter of shoppers.
I wondered whether I would have any lingering anxiety in doing more things involving crowds. The answer appears to be no. In the past month, I’ve eaten dim sum at a crowded Chinese restaurant, attended a minor league baseball game with a capacity crowd and been to a party or two. I have not felt self-conscious about any of these activities. It has been nice to hug and shake hands with friends again! Humans are an adaptable species, and it has been pleasantly surprising to see friends and neighbors adjust to positive shocks as well as negative ones. There are now entire days when the pandemic fails to register in any way whatsoever.
This sense of normality, however, is chained to a perception of abnormality that can be detected in the peripheral vision. New England is doing extremely well with vaccination, and the United States is doing pretty well. The rest of the world is facing a reckoning. The delta variant is wreaking havoc elsewhere and could wreak havoc in under-vaccinated parts of the United States this fall. While the mRNA vaccines appear to hold up quite well to this more infectious variant, the other vaccines being distributed globally are less effective.
Unless and until the rest of the planet is vaccinated at the same level as New England, there will be epsilon, zeta, eta and theta variants of covid-19 in the future. It is in everyone’s interests, vaccinated or not, to prevent further variants.
I hope Americans will remember that the rest of the world deserves to be vaccinated as well, but as our daily lives return to normal, it will be easy to tune such news out. In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Adam Smith noted “the selfish and original passions of human nature” in which “the loss or gain of a very small interest of our own appears to be of vastly more importance, excites a much more passionate joy or sorrow, a much more ardent desire or aversion, than the greatest concern of another with whom we have no particular connection.”
For me and for my community, the coronavirus pandemic is effectively over. For much of the rest of the world, it rages on. I hope that the latter condition improves before it impinges on the former condition. I never want to have to write a sequel to this diary.