COVID-19 is adaptive. It is unified. It is determined to live. Americans are none of those things.
As the Delta variant infiltrates the country, people in regions dealing with spiking caseloads, hospitalizations, and low vaccination rates need to wear masks at indoor public places, based on updated guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal wasbeen to reduce the risk of infection to themselves and others. The result? Pandemic pandemonium. While some officials running local and state governments and schools are mandating indoor mask use, most are not. They “encourage” people to mask in problem places.
This virus is in conversation with us. It’s time we be in conversation with it and with one another.
I am a grocery clerk. No one has to talk to me about how tired people are of dealing with this virus, of living in uncertainty and fear.
The news and guidelines we receive shift and change. That’s what happens as data are revealed.
I have not gone to work without masking, despite CDC guidelines in May that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to mask indoors. Most days, I still double-mask. Many of my customers and co-workers do, too. I wish everyone were masking indoors.
I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of science. I do, though, understand a good bit about human behavior. The virus and its variants, especially Delta, outmaneuvered us again, like a practiced chess player, while Americans battle each other over checkers.
We argue about the safety of the vaccines. We argue about conspiracy theories, that the virus is a hoax. We argue that our personal liberties are being violated. We argue about the CDC and the ever-changing guidelines. We argue that anyone who disagrees with us is an idiot or blind. We argue about masking. Somehow it always comes back to the damn masks.
And still, people are dying.
More than 628,000 human beings in the United States alone. People are dying from this cunning virus. And as a country, we are dying every day from a venom that is beating us — our disdain for the other, our dislike, our distrust.
We cannot get out of our own way.
After World War I, countries in Europe were disbanded. New borders and countries were formed. Nationalism and fascism were on the rise. Those tumultuous times impacted lives for generations. This is what it now feels like to me. We are all cloaked in our own flags.
News flash: The Delta variant does not see political colors. Neither do all the other variants that are spawning. COVID-19 is not about politics. Don’t conflate the two.
I respect that people have questions and concerns about the vaccines. I respect that others, including myself, believe that getting vaxxed is the best choice they can make for themselves and others.
But questions and personal decisions are different from not acting responsibly. We are individuals. We are not islands. We live in a community. We are accountable to one another.
“Pandemics change societies, but how they change societies is largely up to us,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in an interview.
A friend texts me a post she saw. It recaps several things to which we so willingly consent, including wearing seatbelts or complying with 9/11 safety measures about removing our shoes and emptying our pockets, and then stepping through an X-ray machine. We shut up and do it if we want to get on that plane.
But ask someone to wear a mask indoors in public spaces such as grocery stores to reduce the risk of infection to themselves and others —– no flippin’ way. Cris de coeur of “my personal liberties” or “my rights” fill the air.
There are outbreaks in almost 85 percent of the country. Americans are traveling. Even in states with higher vaccination rates, outbreaks are occurring. They are driven by the unvaccinated, who, in reality, are suffering the most. In states with low vaccination rates, rising hospitalizations — Alabama reported last week that there were no ICU beds left in the state due to the Delta variant — are a barometer of COVID’s adaptability and our inflexibility.
People are not practicing basic safety measures that will protect themselves and those they love from infection and even death: masking, limiting indoor gatherings and activities, social distancing.
We cannot choose to go unvaccinated or refuse to mask while ignoring reality.
We can learn from the virus. We can adapt. We can be flexible.
Why are we resistant to keeping one another safe — and alive?
Mary Ann D’Urso’s column appears regularly in the Globe. She can be reached at email@example.com.