I just canceled out of my second concert of the fall. A favorite artist, a concert I was looking forward to, and I still couldn’t pull the trigger. Not because of the artist. Not even because of a lack of Covid protocols. Both concerts required either full vaccination or a negative Covid test 72 hours before the performance.
The problem is the 72 hours and the fact that I live in Las Vegas. People travel here from everywhere. And some of the new variants are sneaky. They’re causing some breakthrough cases, even for those of us who’ve had our booster shots.
Still, I’ve been seeing live theater. The venues are part of the issue—my favorite place for live theater is a large hall, with great ventilation, and seats that aren’t crammed close together. Also, the site is more for locals than for tourists.
But this week’s concert? It lands in the middle of the rodeo finals, which hit the local news for refusing to comply with mask and vaccine mandates. I really don’t want to sit in a tight crowd with people who refuse to wear masks and have probably been exposed to all kinds of crud, not just the Covid virus and its variations.
I know my risk tolerance. Sorry, favorite artist. You’re not enough of a favorite that I will risk my health to see you.
I do love the choice though. I love being able to see concerts and theater, after the silence of 2020. I’m not hearing as many complaints about masks. People—even those who don’t want to wear them—are complying. (Except for the rodeo intransigents, I guess.)
As I said to my husband the other day, we’re learning to live with this virus.
I knew that was coming. If you’d asked me in April of 2020—and my poor husband did—I would have told you best and worst case scenarios.
Best case, I would have said, was we’ll get this damn thing under control and it’ll be a memory by August. But I didn’t believe that, because I’d studied history. History teaches that an unregulated global pandemic lasts three to five years. The last few years, though, the worst of the pandemic hits certain communities, some of which had avoided the pandemic earlier.
Gunnison, Colorado, for example, managed to avoid the worst of the 1918 flu by quarantining the community. Anyone who arrived by train (and that was really the only way in, besides horse) went through mandatory quarantine, which kept the town flu-free during the worst of the pandemic.
But the third wave hit, and by then, Gunnison had become lax. It finally succumbed to the 1918 flu toward the end of 1919, and mostly because no one in that small town had any immunity at all.
That horrid flu popped up in various places all over the world until 1922 or so, until the mutations of the virus made it more transmissible but less deadly.
I knew that, and I was afraid of that, even with better hospitals, better science, and vaccines. I had hoped that everyone would get their vaccines by the summer of 2021, but a bunch of things got in the way, which I won’t go into here. One of the worst things, though, is this: for a vaccine to stop a pandemic, the entire world needs to be vaccinated at the same time. And there was no will for that.
So we’ve moved into the uneven stage of the pandemic—where some communities are suffering horribly, and some communities are not suffering much at all.
I thought of that tonight as I put on my mask to go through the lobby of my building to take a walk to get the rest of my steps. I carry masks all the time and wear them wherever they’re required. I don’t think about them much. I feel like they’re part of my clothing now, and I actually check to make sure I have one when I stand beside the coat closet on the way out the door.
That’s a far cry from January of 2020.
Yes, we were hearing rumors of a bad flu out of China. And we were having a terrible flu season here in Las Vegas. Turns out that the terrible “flu” season was really the beginning of our Covid year. We just wouldn’t learn that for another several months.
I was sitting in the food court at the University of Nevada Las Vegas just after classes had started for the semester. It must have been late January, because the students who had flown in from China had to be quarantined in specific buildings near the university.
I saw a woman wearing a mask—in hindsight, an N95 mask—and I remember thinking that she was overreacting to the bad flu. Surely, no one needed to wear a mask all day. Just wash your hands and be done with it.
That moment is indelibly inked in my brain. A fleeting moment, and a fleeting thought, something that took maybe 30 seconds maximum.
But my mind returns to that moment routinely, often when I’m in the same food court, near the same table, looking at hundreds of us, all wearing masks.
That moment was an instance of foreshadowing, the kind that goes right by you the first time when you watch a movie, but upon second viewing you catch it—that subtle little detail—in the back of the room, there’s a person wearing a mask, and you think, Wow, they set that up all along.
I don’t believe anyone is setting anything up. Our lives are not a movie. But we do have moments that seem more important in hindsight. That one presaged our future—we all wear masks now, and many of us probably will after the worst of the Covid threat passes. We won’t wear the masks all the time like we do now, but we’ll wear them during flu season or at the height of allergy season, and no one will comment on it.
The culture has changed tremendously since Covid entered our lives. We’re more cautious now, and we’re a lot less likely to hug or touch someone else or shake hands. I watched two people spontaneously shake hands the other day, and then step away from each other and apologize.
I don’t know if that’s a change that will remain. I do know those of us who make it through these next few years will have scars that will run deep from our experience.
I was just reading the biography of a person who lived in the nineteenth century, and the author mentioned in passing that the famous person was considered handsome primarily because he had no smallpox scars so common in other people.
Smallpox scars. Something people used to live with. My sister has a scar on her shoulder from her smallpox vaccine, which was common when she got hers. I got mine nearly twenty years later (we’re quite distant in age), and I have no scar at all. I can’t even remember getting my polio vaccine or even being afraid of that disease. I do remember when my entire neighborhood was felled by the measles, and my mother kept me quarantined in the house so that I didn’t catch it. (And I didn’t.)
Each generation gets scarred by the crises it survives. We aren’t through this crisis yet, but the up-ended pandemic life has now become normal. Things we thought were weird are now part of our daily existence.
My past self would look at my present self and wonder what the heck I was thinking. And my current self wonders why, as a person who considers herself smart and scientifically literate, I didn’t think mask wearing was a good idea.
Foreshadowing. Which only works in books and movies and good storytelling. Because in real life, it’s actually hindsight. And something that makes me, at least, want to clap myself on the head and ask, “Girl, what were you thinking?”
I had a higher risk tolerance in those days, I guess. Or maybe I was just naïve. Or—let’s face it. Maybe I wasn’t thinking at all.