Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mask whiplash.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threw us quite the curve ball this week. Just a couple of weeks ago -- on April 27th -- the CDC issued an infographic with cute red, yellow and green icons that described the situations in which fully-vaccinated people could go without masks outside. We had barely parsed that news by this past Thursday, when the CDC basically said never mind: If you've been fully vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask at all. You can also drop the physical distancing. If your local or state ordinances require you to mask up, you still have to. But otherwise, go out and live your life like it's 2019!

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
I don't know about you, but this has given me a case of whiplash. It feels a whole lot like the case I had in March of last year, when suddenly we were all either working from home or, if we couldn't work from home, hoping we didn't catch the virus and die.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the decision to drop the mask requirement isn't a surrender to the mask-averse or a nefarious way to encourage people to get the vaccine if they haven't already. Instead, she says, it's grounded in science. Results of numerous studies announced over the past several weeks have indicated that vaccine immunity is lasting longer than some had expected, and that the vaccines approved so far are effective against at least several of the virus's variants. Moreover, while a fully-vaccinated person can still catch the virus, the odds that he or she will need to be hospitalized for it are pretty darned small. For example, at the Cleveland Clinic, since the start of this year, just one percent of patients admitted because of the virus had been fully vaccinated -- and among their employees, 99.7% of cases of the virus occurred in those who hadn't been vaccinated.

All that's swell news. But I've still got that case of whiplash.

How are we supposed to know who's been vaccinated and who hasn't? Dr. Walensky says it's going to have to be up to individuals to be honest. My immediate response: Because that's worked so well so far. The federal government decided against creating a database of those vaccinated, citing privacy concerns, but that leaves us with no official way to keep track of who's gotten the jab and who hasn't. The card you get when you get your shot is not an official government record. Even so, people reportedly have been trying to counterfeit the cards ever since states began rolling out the shots -- to the point where the FBI had to announce that it was illegal. 

If the vaccines are as effective as the research suggests, and if the mask-averse are likely to lie anyway, I'm inclined to let the liars play their stupid games and maybe win the stupid prize. But that's easy for me to say; I'm fully vaccinated and I live in a state where nearly 63% of those eligible for the vaccine have received at least one shot. New Mexico has been doing so with with the vaccine rollout that our governor had been planning to lift all restrictions next month anyway.

But then Thursday happened, and now I've got this case of whiplash.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday called, "How to Handle Your Re-Entry Anxiety as the Pandemic Recedes." They talked to several experts -- a neuroscientist, a therapist, a behavioral scientist and a psychologist -- and came up with some tips for easing back out into society. Here they are:

  • Set boundaries. Decide what you're comfortable doing and let folks know. If they push back, stand firm. And don't push others to do things outside their own comfort zone.
  • Calm your brain. Relaxation exercises can help here, as can repeating a mantra like, "I'm fully vaccinated, my friends are fully vaccinated, and the danger in this situation is minimal." Another suggestion, which I really like, is to approach situations that scare you with curiosity. One expert says, "Curiosity feels better than anxiety."
  • Look on the bright side. That's what the WSJ article called it, at least. I kind of hate the phrasing. But the idea is to talk yourself into looking forward to a get-together or event and anticipate having fun. Then, at the event, pay attention to the fun you're having, and replay it later by thinking about and talking about how much fun you had.
  • Don't let life get too hectic again. Which kind of speaks for itself.
Now for my two cents: Change is hard, transitions are hard, and they're harder when changes are sprung on us. It's going to be tough for all of us to find our comfort zones in the post-pandemic future, so be kind to yourself and understanding of others. And if you still feel the need to wear a mask, you'll be in good company -- I'll be wearing mine for at least a little longer, too.

These moments of scary blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Linda Lee Williams said...

No such thing as the "honor code" in our politically divided society. I will continue to wear a mask in stores, and I will not be indoors with unvaccinated people, family or not. The CDC should have waited until more of the population was vaccinated--dangled the carrot instead of throwing it to the crowd. The whiplash made the arthritis in my neck worse!

Lynne Cantwell said...

I've been spending too much time on social media. I'm looking for the "like" button for both of your comments. :D

Jo, I hear you about wearing a mask in close quarters, especially in a healthcare setting. And also during allergy season - I'm pretty sure pollen grains are bigger than the virus, so masks that protect us from that should be helpful for those of us with seasonal allergies, too.

Linda, I'm with you on being indoors with folks who aren't vaccinated. Until we've definitely achieved herd immunity and COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the annual flu, I intend to avoid places - which includes states - where people are mask-avoidant. My vaccinated friends can come to visit *me*.