It’s interesting that the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) announcement last week regarding masks should create such a maelstrom of responses. Many states had already lifted mask mandates prior to the CDC recommendation, and even those who planned to keep the mandates in place were, like Connecticut, moving rapidly towards ending virtually all other COVID-19-related restrictions in the coming weeks.
Yet, the new federal guidance still felt like a dramatic momentum swing.
Have we finally arrived at the light that has been glittering at the end of the tunnel for a while now? Is this the surest signal that the pandemic has finally ended?
Perhaps the reaction has been indicative of our collective expectations when it comes to a return to normalcy — that the pandemic would have a start and end time, as if it were a movie with a pre-determined plot. Many of us were perhaps anticipating that the “all clear” sign would be delivered in a way that was obvious to everyone, and that we’d emerge from our pandemic world all at once.
The reality was always bound to be different, as were our responses to it.
The CDC’s guidance does not “end” the pandemic, any more than would have Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to lift almost all virus-related restrictions this week. What it signals is that we are, by all measures, past the worst of this crisis and the country is rapidly approaching a point where the virus is no longer a crisis at all.
Given that, we hope people are slow to judge and quick to understand as each person, in his or her own way, adjusts to life after the pandemic.
Some have been itching to return to normal for months, and have largely done so in their personal lives. Any casual observation of local restaurants and retail shops over the last few weeks shows that many people are more than willing to get back out and live life in much the same way as they did in 2019, before anyone had heard of the pandemic or COVID-19.
Others are not ready. They are not ready to take off their masks, even if they’ve been vaccinated. Some are not ready to attend events or gather in large numbers. For some, it’s going to take time to unwind everything that’s been wound during the last 14 months.
Social media is often a bad barometer of how the public plans to react in the real world, but since the CDC announcement it’s been somewhat disconcerting to see the usual battle lines being drawn. Those ready to return to life as normal seem angry at those who are not, and those who wish to continue taking certain precautions, even after state mandates to do so have been lifted, seem suspicious of those who won’t.
We now have three vaccines available to the general public, one of which is open to anyone 16 years of age or older. All of the medical science suggests that these vaccines are nothing short of miracles, providing extraordinary protection against the virus and its spread. Everyone who wishes to take advantage of those vaccines can do so, and Connecticut records that more than half its eligible residents have received at least one dose.
Given that reality, it’s time for everyone to make their own choices about how they want to enter this last phase of the pandemic, as it recedes from our everyday lives. Hopefully, after such a long and grueling year of living under the cloud of a virus, we can all offer each other a little grace and understanding.
The light at the end of the tunnel appears to have been reached. Now, we can all decide how we exit that tunnel.