Reporter’s Notebook: The COVID Shrug

Twists and turns can be enervating.

I sprinted to watch new seasons of Orange Is the New Black after its debut and entered on my mental calendar the Sundays when fresh episodes of The Walking Dead were showing and new Marvel movies were to be released. 

Thanks to Netflix’s memory, I can date my breakup with Piper and Crazy Eyes — after the eighth episode of the 13-episode Season Three, released on June 12, 2015. 

As far as Marvel, when a friend told me he planned to sprint to see the new Dr. Strange movie, my response was tepid at best: Maybe I should see it since I saw the first one. But then again, that reasoning would doom me to watch the next 10 Dr. Strange movies. 

I am built for sprints, not marathons, which is what the pandemic has become. 

How many people have I interviewed who initially believed the first wave of COVID-19 would pass like a brief cold? A lot. Who remembers when handwashing became the first main defense to transmission, elbow bumps a fashionable greeting and face-to-face conversations risky? Remember when testing positive for COVID-19 launched a death watch and mask police excoriated people in public and on social media? 

I remember, in those first months, running into neighbors outside and constantly adjusting my position to maintain a safe zone. I would leave the house for short walks to the neighborhood park, often ignoring my girlfriend’s plea to wear a mask. Despite being convinced that being outdoors was safe, I was still rattled enough to sometimes veer into the road or hold my breath when passing another mask-less person.

But you can only delay exhaling for so long. 

Well into the third year of the pandemic, the change in attitudes is palpable and, I believe, not just driven by a sense of confidence from vaccinations, which have proven to be defeatable by the virus that causes COVID-19. I, like so many others, have changed and been changed since beginning of the pandemic, which has been marked by deaths and mandates and the reinstitution of mandates. 

I am a member of the Weary Ones, for whom outright fear has been replaced by a new realization: there is a balance that can recognize the seriousness of COVID-19 and the importance of moving on with living. 

It is obvious that others have moved on. 

New York’s decision to end its indoor mask mandate in February is not the first time the state rescinded a requirement that people wear masks indoors. This time feels different, however, even as cases and hospitalizations are again rising and the state is “recommending” that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors. 

After former Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted a mandate for masking in June 2021, my sense is that local residents did not begin shedding, in mass, their face coverings in celebration. During trips to my local supermarket, and to other stores, most people still shopped with face-coverings. But since the state’s announcement in February, mask-less shoppers easily outnumber the masked. (I am part of the minority, and still wear masks when shopping.)

Some of those shoppers may be among those who rushed to get vaccinated when shots first become available in December 2020, but have put off receiving either a first or second booster shot, even as studies show that immunity from the vaccines falls over time. (Full disclosure: I will schedule an appointment for a second booster before this issue hits the stands.)

It is also obvious that my relationship with COVID-19 has changed. 

Several friends have recently revealed that they tested positive for COVID. Two years ago, we would have engaged in a long conversation draped in gloom because so many people were dying — some after a brief improvement in their condition. Now, I ask the obligatory questions: What were your symptoms? How are you feeling? Then we turn to other topics: How is work going? Are you going to so-and-so’s get-together? 

One of those recent calls came from a friend a day after her mother’s graveside funeral, which my girlfriend and I attended. Someone else who was there, and at a luncheon afterward, tested positive for COVID-19. We scrapped plans to attend a shiva the next day, and took one of the at-home tests that have become as essential as extra rolls of toilet paper, but absent was that sense of panic that I would have had if that happened in spring 2020. 

There is a certain beauty to the sprint, the symmetry of form over a short distance. Compare that to the marathon, where worn-out runners flail and grimace as they cross the finish line. I feel like I have settled into some middle ground, where the pace is manageable even if the distance is unknowable.

Click to hear this post.

Leave a Reply

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.