Who was that masked man?

The recent CDC declaration regarding mask wearing took me by surprise. I was gathering up baseball equipment while getting ready to take my granddaughter to her Thursday afternoon T-ball game, when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Center For Disease Control, appeared on the television screen with a simple statement that stopped me in my tracks. To paraphrase, she said people who were fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and had passed the two-week mark could do everything they did before the pandemic without wearing a mask.

Wait, what? I stared at the television screen as the words sunk in. My immediate reaction was disbelief. After wearing a mask in public for so long, removing it was going to take some getting used to. I felt a wave of unfamiliar emotions sweep over me – a combination of relief and happiness. This wasn’t just a throw-away news story, this was the director of the CDC telling me things were about to return to normal, the real normal, not the “new normal”. After everything we’ve been forced to endure for the past year-and-a-half, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders (or should I say my face?).

I wondered how the news would effect the afternoon ahead of me. There were still a lot of unanswered questions. Did I need to bring a mask for my granddaughter to wear at the ballgame? Did other parents hear the news? Would they be ditching their masks? When we arrived at the ball field it was hard to tell. About half of the spectators were masked up. My granddaughter put on her mask like the rest of her teammates.

I was safely socially distanced from the other parents as I sat on my blue fold-up chair, so I didn’t wear my mask. I was waiting for a side-eye stare from one of the mask-wearing judgmental mothers so I could say, “Didn’t you hear the news? Masks are so 2020.” But that didn’t happen. I watched the kids run around the field. Even though their face coverings masked their smiles, I knew things were changing for the better.

I drove home from the game listening to the news on my car radio as I waited for updates on the situation. Of course since I live in Massachusetts, the governor put the brakes on any immediate mask lifting. While the state has been consistently heading in the right direction controlling the virus, there was data to be processed and rules to be followed before we could incrementally lower our face coverings in a safe and vigilant manner. The bell-ringing VJ Day inspired celebrations were going to have to wait. Cautious optimism would replace joyous rapture at least for a little while. It felt like a victory nonetheless.

Weeks later, the mask-on mask-off situation is still playing out in the public arena. The guidelines are different for each state, each county, each city and town, all the way down to each privately owned business where rules fluctuate depending on the company’s management decision. And even then it’s up to the individual to decide if it’s worth wearing a face covering to gain admittance to businesses enforcing the mask mandate. Just ask former child star Ricky Schroder. A video of his refusal to wear a mask at Costco went viral.

Adding to the already complicated mask rules is the vaccination controversy. Easing restrictions for people who are vaccinated puts non-vaccinated people in a lower social tier which leads to questions about political motivation.

Politics aside, I’ll take good news where I can find it. Some stores and supermarkets are removing the “one way” arrows from their floors (not everyone followed them anyway). The vaccine seems to be working better than medical experts first thought. Vaccinations offer protection against virus variants. Case rates are lower than they have been in a long time. Hospitalizations are a fraction of what they were last year at this time.

In the midst of confusing medical recommendations and subtle political maneuverings, things are visibly moving in the right direction. Previous lock-down precautions, mask mandates and vaccines have all had a positive effect on lessening the severity of the virus. Maybe the pandemic has naturally run its course. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the true feeling of hope in the air. I never thought there would come a day when I would look back and see the torturous days of the pandemic behind me. That day may not be here officially, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like it could actually happen. And not a moment too soon.

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