Yet “Pandemic of the Unvaccinated” is becoming an oft-repeated phrase. It is the kind of phrase that gets stuck in the head of us advertisement-minded Americans. It flows so well, it is easy to remember, and it instills pride in the vaccinated. Only about half of the American population are fully vaccinated.
Does that number surprise you? Yes, the United States is still only about 50% fully vaccinated. I know it is hard to keep up with so many numbers floating around, especially the “first dose” number that inflates the feeling of success. But the U.S. now has 34 million COVID-19 cases and counting, and the world has reached over 191 million cases and counting.
For me, the global pandemic began in January 2020, the first time I heard about the virus over the radio while I was overseas in India. It got real for me after a long conversation in early February with a young Indian activist filled with tears, grief, and uncertainty about their future in light of COVID, climate change, and a reduction of human rights in their country. That conversation made a thumb-deep dent in my heart which has yet to be filled up again. My easy landing and re-entry into the United States a few days later — despite warnings from the airlines of potential delays due to COVID — made me more uneasy, more anxious. I, for one, couldn’t wait for a lockdown, quarantine, for something, anything. Any sign that America understood this was real.
Now, here we are, in the Summer of 2021. My Alive Girl Summer. And in many ways, I am still waiting.
I have read things like “post-pandemic.” Post?!!!??!! I guess it is just like post-racial, a myth.
I have read, “We nearly turned the corner on this thing …” or heard “We are so over the pandemic …” talk. Well, as my religious friends tell me, “Even if you do not believe in god, god believes in you.” I say, even if you’re over the pandemic, the pandemic is not over us.
I am fatigued at answering the question “Why do I have a mask on?” when the answer is simple: The mask mandate was lifted too soon. I still remember the 70% fully vaccinated number as the goal. And my fully vaccinated self — whatever that really means in light of new variants — can pass on the virus or could still get sick, even if it’s not as severe as before. Plus, when I think of all of the children not yet eligible to get vaccinated? Wearing a mask is no burden, it is better than a ventilator.
Author Kiese Laymon tweeted recently, “Seeing folks in masks looks like love to me.”
And it is. It is love of self, love of family, friends, and strangers. Love of our children, and children we do not know. It is also science, the science of the uncertainty and a still living, evolving, and mutating virus. It is love of country, our country, with only half of its population fully vaccinated.
Many of my friends around the world are also still waiting to get vaccinated, with no real sense of when their turn may come. With 87% of the world not fully vaccinated, the wait can be literally years away. Yes, the world is only 13% fully vaccinated.
If you’re making late summer travel plans, consider this: according to Reuters COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker, Canada is 51.1% fully vaccinated. France is 42%, the United Kingdom is 54%, and Germany is 47%. Not exactly the stuff of creating confidence.
But even farther away, in places where I travel for work or for love, we have Kenya at 1.1%, Senegal at 1.6%, and Turkey, where my love resides and, thankfully, where he was able to get vaccinated himself, is at only 25%. We have so far to go.
When a friend says that his workload has become overwhelming because “everyone in the India office has COVID,” I pause. The weeks, months of waiting for the notification that a vaccine was available and that you’re scheduled to finally get one is so very real for so many of my friends. As real as Americans overseas who are scheduling trips back to America just to get vaccinated.
Which brings me back to that day in February when I very easily got off the plane from India and back to America. The anxiety, waiting for some kind of policy recognition of this pandemic. All February, nothing. I went to Eons Fashion Antique in Shadyside and bought vintage gloves to wear everywhere. By March, I was looking at masks to make, even though we were told not to, something I think of often. How many died because of, as former surgeon general Jerome Adams tweeted on July 17, “Last year Tony Fauci and I famously, prematurely, & wrongly advised against masks. I felt it was the best call at the time, but now regret it.”
He goes on to warn us, and the CDC now, “I am worried the CDC also made similarly a premature, misinterpreted, yet still harmful call on masking in the face of delta variant.”
So as much as I would love to play with yinz this summer, My Alive Girl Summer is me keeping my activities to a few outdoor gatherings with my mask on. I will wear my mask indoors, so do not be surprised or ask me why. Or yell at me that you are fully vaccinated.
As I walk with my mask on, I notice people do tend to leave a wide space, that 6 foot minimum distance. There it is, the minimum we redefine as the maximum, the most we will do.
In the face of a global pandemic, too many have chosen to the minimum. Why can’t we choose to do the most? The most caring, the most careful, the most compassionate for ourselves and each other?