"It was like someone flipped a switch.” That was my son in Washington, reporting on what he saw last weekend as he walked the streets. “One day, everyone was wearing a mask, with no eye contact or small talk, and the next day, it was like everything was back to normal.”
Similar scenes have been reported around the nation, and in our region, as mask mandates are being lifted, and more people are now fully vaccinated. We are not out of the woods yet, and epidemiologists are sounding alarms about the need for children to be vaccinated when health officials approve. But it appears likely that this summer and fall, we can ease back into our schools, jobs, and social life.
Soon, those eerie days of no traffic, and cardboard fans at sporting events will be a distant memory.
For the most part, I am thrilled about that. Why wouldn’t I be?
Yes, I did say “for the most part.” True confession: I have some issues.
Oh, I’m totally comfortable without the mask, especially outdoors, and even inside around other vaccinated people. But now, I have to make good on all the empty promises I have made.
There are about 40 people with whom I am supposed to have lunch. During the past year, I have ended many a phone conversation by saying, “Hey, when this is all over, we need to get together.” The reply, each time, has been, “Absolutely! As soon as it’s safe again.”
So when am I going to schedule 40 lunches? I have also postponed news stories, interviews, speeches, meetings, family gatherings, and anything else that requires face-to-face contact. Now those bills are coming due, all at once.
Now about the mask. I’ll probably wear one in doctors’ offices, hospitals and crowded indoor events for a while longer just to be on the safe side. I never thought I would say this, but I will miss it in the winter, because it kept my nose warm. And my shopping trips have been faster and more efficient. By wearing a mask (and a ball cap), I’ve been “hiding out” during the past year. Acquaintances from 30 years ago haven’t stopped me to reminisce about that softball game we played, or if I still live in that house we moved into in 1984. In the pre-mask world, these awkward conversations would begin in the produce department, where we would seemingly exhaust all conversation possibilities. Inevitably, we would link up again in the checkout line for more random banter. So my undercover days are nearing an end.
Meanwhile, many politicians and social media trolls continue to fan the flames of division, even in what should be a celebratory time. Unlike our past victories over enemies both seen and unseen, this one seems bittersweet.
When the soldiers and sailors of World War II returned home, we had parades. We honored the first responders of 9/11 as heroes, and rightfully so. When will we show our appreciation for the scientists and medical workers who worked nonstop, at great personal risk, to save our lives?
Instead, many Americans would rather shout at store employees, use the virus as a political football, and berate those who choose to be cautious. It has gotten so bad, that the President himself is pleading with Americans to be kind, much like a new middle school teacher whose classroom is overrun with bullies.
He said, “If you’re fully vaccinated, you can now go mask-less in most settings. But remember: it’s going to take time for everyone who wants to get vaccinated to get their shots, and some vaccinated people prefer masks. So please, if you see someone with a mask, treat them with kindness.”
I can assure you that his plea changed absolutely zero minds among those who display their poor manners like a badge of pride.
I plan to pick and choose my spots when wearing a mask. It looks I will have plenty of opportunities to do so, as all those events that were erased from my 2020 calendar are starting to reappear. Yes, I’m grumbling about ditching the sweat pants and sneakers, but it’s a small price to pay. Let’s flip the switch.
David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host.