“Didn’t you read the expiration dates on this stuff?”. The question came from my spouse of 31 years after I returned from an early morning shopping trip to Wegman’s. This was some weeks ago before the new CDC guidelines around masks was released. Apparently, almost all of the yogurt I bought was passed its expiration date. The truth is I had not read the expiration date or rather, could not read the date. You see, despite 900 recommendations from the internet and learned mask wearing people, I’ve never been able to keep my glasses from fogging up while wearing a mask so I shop without them and hope for the best lest I blindly run into things.
I know there are some of my friends out there that have resisted the whole mask thing all along. I’m not here to argue about that. Considering the number of states and countries that were nearly under marshal law with police enforced lockdowns and still had major outbreaks of COVID-19, I’m not totally convinced on the effectiveness of masks, but other than being inconvenient, I never saw it as a “violation of my rights” and it didn’t seem like a hill worth dying on. Forget the fact that I was perfectly willing to stay away from people so it was really a non-issue anyway.
On May 16th, the CDC updated their mask and social distancing recommendation. The full text can be found here.
As you can tell, I’m not a big shopper. It is my least favorite thing to do unless the retail space is Cabela’s, or Lancaster Archery Supply. I have found myself in two grocery stores and one other major retailer in the last couple days. In accordance with CDC recommendations, all three facilities have removed entrance signs requiring masks as have the local convenience stores. Wegman’s had a giant sign setup in the foyer stating the new CDC guidelines and that fully vaccinated customers were welcome to shop without a mask. Like most places, the sign went on to urge those not fully vaccinated to continue to mask up. In all three spaces, I was struck by the number of people continuing to wear masks. In fact nearly everyone in all three stores had masks on. Being fully vaccinated, I was not one of them. From the burning stares I got in each store, you may have thought I was a leper with open sores running around hugging everyone. I must say, my first thought was “I thought a lot more people had been vaccinated”.
Across the country, new cases of COVID-19 continue to decline. In Pennsylvania, all restrictions for restaurants and other public spaces will be lifted for Memorial Day. Come June 4th, Citizens Bank Park will be at full capacity for Phillies games with all masking and social distancing requirements banished. If you’ve paid attention to the Phillies rather anemic offense, and weak defense you still might want to stay away but regardless of that, it is noteworthy that the same people and science that said masking and social distancing was important, now say it is okay to stop. If you have been fully vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask anymore. You don’t have to pause and go down another aisle in the store because there is someone in the aisle you were going to peruse. More importantly, if others are following guidelines and not wearing a mask please remember that they are the ones listening to the science. It is not necessary to point a shameful glare their way.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine, said that it is “very unlikely” for vaccinated people to transmit the virus.Science/Health Column – International Business Times
Of course the argument until now has been that fully vaccinated people could still transmit COVID-19. As the science progresses, that has shown to be less and less likely. At this point, not wearing a mask if not vaccinated is akin to not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle. It’s the user’s choice and they are risking their health alone. No one else need be concerned.
Like the masking mandates, the conspiracy theorists among you still believe that the COVID-19 vaccines are some great experiment in human control or that the vaccines are some variety of government zombie juice. I was among those that said I would not get one of these vaccines right away which, in today’s polarized political climate, automatically got me filed as a right-wing, anti-government nut job. In fact, I took the time to do what everyone should do and read the science before making a decision. Vaccines work. If they didn’t we would still have things like Polio, Smallpox, Bubonic plague, and a dozen other viruses nobody really wants.
I have a very painful memory of the Polio vaccine. There was not the dancing around with appointments, or assuaging of the public conscience we have with COVID-19 vaccines. The Polio vaccine was administered in assembly line fashion by faceless robots in white suits and masks. I remember standing in line at a local elementary school watching the shot given to waiting victims. The vaccine was delivered using an evil-looking electric hypodermic gun. If ever there was a device that looked like it was used to implant a chip in one’s arm, that was it. I remember my Mom telling me it wouldn’t hurt. This was belied by the fact that virtually everyone in front of me receiving the shot left in tears holding their arm. Despite all this, and despite the fact that there was at least one major screw-up with the Polio vaccine, we couldn’t get there to get vaccinated quickly enough. Polio was scary. People watched their normal, healthy kids turned into twisted, mangled pretzels or simply not survive the virus.
There aren’t a lot of people left on this blue orb who remember the height of the Polio outbreaks of the first half of the 1900s. Polio didn’t kill nearly as many people that have died from COVID-19 but the vast majority of victims were of an entirely different demographic. They were mostly children. For those that feel government action during the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatic, realize that at the height of the Polio pandemic, children believed to be infected were sometimes forcefully removed from their homes by government workers and placed in sanitariums. America and the world dealt with annual Polio outbreaks for forty years until Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine. For forty years swimming pools and movie theaters closed during the summertime Polio season. For forty years parents would keep their children home and away from other kids during outbreaks. Forty years. Suddenly, a few months of social distancing for COVID-19 doesn’t seem that dramatic.
The point is, the Polio epidemic and the fear of Polio came to an end with Jonas Salk’s vaccine. Once developed, over 400 million doses of vaccine were delivered over the course of 7 years effectively eliminating Polio as a modern medical concern. The science and the nation came together to make that happen. To read more about the Polio pandemic and the vaccine, check out this informative article from Discover Magazine.
Where was I? Oh . . right. COVID-19 vaccine. As I said originally, I was not going to be first in line to grab one of the new-fangled vaccines produced in whirlwind time. At least whirlwind by vaccine standards. (Did I mention forty years before the polio vaccine came along?) I am a science and fact-based person. I don’t listen to conspiracy theories based on hearsay, I don’t make decisions based on religious beliefs, and I certainly don’t believe nonsense parroted on social media. Instead, I poured a cup of coffee and began reading how Pfizer went about producing the vaccines, where speed was gained, and what risks they took. There are lots of resources out there with these answers. If you are a Wall street Journal subscriber, they have the best article specifically on Pfizer.
Upon reading and understanding the science and technology I felt very good about the vaccines. As it turned out, it was a moot point as I was in one of the last demographics to be eligible to receive the vaccine. Predictably, it takes a long time vaccinate 330,000,000 people especially with 2-dose vaccines. There is a lot of crying out there about how we missed achieving herd immunity because of the anti-vaxxers, but realistically there are a lot of factors involved and, given the rapidly changing nature of COVID-19, it is highly unlikely that we were ever going to get there. Like Influenza and other viruses, COVID-19 is probably just another health condition we need to learn to live with and handle. I’m sure it won’t be the last new virus that comes along either.
As mentioned, on May 13th I achieved full protection since that was the two week anniversary of my second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. Kudos to CVS for their excellent vaccination website and kudos to Pfizer for their efforts. Aside from a sore arm, I had no ill effects from the vaccine and will happily be shopping sans mask and no-doubt enduring some self-righteous stares for my perfectly legitimate, sanctioned behavior. The beauty of being a grumpy old white guy with thick skin is I don’t care. Stare away. I’m the one following guidelines.