For most of us, the nightmare of this pandemic started a year ago with the onset of shelter in-place and stay-at-home executive mandates. Prior to that date, most of us had little recognition of this obscure new virus and viewed it as some medical curiosity on the other side of the globe.
But now, almost every one of us knows someone who was COVID positive, who has died or been ill or remains on the healthcare front line, and has been directly or indirectly touched by the greatest pandemic in the history of civilization.
Everything has changed. The fabric of our communities, the glue of society, the spontaneity of simply getting together with friends and colleagues can be a lethal adventure.
We humans crave consistency, routines, and rituals. For most individuals there was a rhythm to life. We get up, we shave, we shower, we dress, and we go off to the farm, the factory, or the foundation. We interact with colleagues; we discussed the news, the weather, sports, and savor the enrichment from the mundane conversations of life.
For most of us this ritual shut down months ago. The downtown areas of many cities are now vacant as remote workers logon at home. The power of those spontaneous relationships has been eroded. So what has this done to us as individuals?
We have become a society in general of nonpersons, avoiding contact for fear of contagion.
Most of us are mindful of that errand that needs to be done, as I was when I carefully mapped out my expedition to a specific area in a Big Box Store for essentials. At checkout, the associate was appropriately masked and behind Plexiglas and expeditiously handled the order. As we were finishing up the transaction, he gasped as a couple walked into the facility and neither wore a mask.
He respectfully said this was a municipal violation and he could be fined or worse lose his license and his job if they did not leave the premises. He was firm, clear, and professional.
The couple was frustrated, angry, and briskly pivoted and walked out of the store.
A few minutes later the gentleman returned wearing a mask and was adamant about his displeasure with the policy. I quietly stood by like I was watching a movie but this was real time. And without doubt, the scenario is replayed thousands of times throughout the country. The maskless are a pariah, shunned because they don’t comply.
Just when we were assured of the 95% benefit from FDA-approved vaccines, our hope to get back to “the way it was” is now being shattered. Slow rollout, not enough supplies, pushback to get the vaccine, citizens disrespectfully not distancing or wearing masks.
Unless approximately 80% of us are vaccinated, we may lose the effectiveness for what has been touted as a major advance to put our lives back on track. So what do we do while we await the arrival of the reinforcements?
We take a deep breath, we pause, we step back, and we control what we can and readjust to the new normal. Postpone trips. Stay in our bubble. Double mask. As we now plow into year two of the greatest pandemic in civilization, we are bruised, we are battered, we are overwhelmed with information overload.
A recurring theme among global healthcare experts is straightforward. No one is safe until every one of us is safe. Somehow, there is a general drift that if the vaccination rate is approximately 80%, we will have herd immunity and we can shed the masks, discard the hand sanitizers, hug each other, shake hands, and life will be back to normal. A state we eagerly anticipate and a road that has taken far too long with too many twists and turns and detours to get us where we fervently want to go.
But not so fast.
Scientific experts are anticipating a tsunami of mutations, some of which may be innocent and trivial, but some of which may negate the impact of the currently available vaccines. We know what to do. We have the tools right now, we have the education, and now is the time to double-down and get the show on the road—the road to “normalcy”—or that show may close. The clock is ticking.