As I write, over 50% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. In San Diego County, over 50% of residents have been fully vaccinated. All covid metrics in San Diego are dropping: case rate per 100,000 people, testing positivity percentage, community outbreaks, hospitalizations, ICU stays, and deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed their guidelines to show that fully vaccinated people have almost no restrictions on their activities—indoor or outdoor—and do not need to wear masks or socially distance themselves from others. State and local guidelines still apply, as do to the guidelines of businesses and employers.
Still, the CDC’s change in guidelines was so dramatic and unexpected that reactions have been mixed. After over a year of masking, keeping our distance, and staying at home as much as possible, any of us would have imagined that we’d be happy to throw our masks away. Instead, many of us feel deeply uncertain.
I have said many times this past year, and now we will begin to feel more deeply: we are traumatized. Being told “you’re safe now” is not at all the same as FEELING safe now. And even when we do feel safe, we are beginning to discover that returning to social activities feels, for many of us, a bit awkward.
I have decided to call this time we are in “exiting the aircraft.”
You know how when the aircraft lands and the seatbelt sign gets turned off? Some people jump up! They grab their bags and stand in the aisle, lined up and ready to get off the plane the moment the doors open.
Then there are those who remain seated. Of course they want to get off the plane; nobody wants to stay on the plane! But they know the doors aren’t opening right away, and they’d rather stay seated, reading a book or texting a friend. They know they will get off once the doors have opened, and they don’t mind that the jump-uppers will get off the plane first.
And whether you jump up or stay seated, we all still have to get through the airport, and pick up our baggage (oh yeah, we’ve got baggage!), and figure out how to get where we want to go. And where have we landed? Somewhere we’ve never been before. No matter how prepared we think we are for this place we’ve traveled to…it’s going to be different than we imagined. If you thought you were returning home, you’ll find that new neighbors have moved in, the house doesn’t look how you remembered, some of the plants in the yard have died, and other plants are overgrown.
You were looking forward to sleeping in your own bed, but you forgot that the sheets need to be washed.
All of this is to say…a lot has changed, including us, and we have a lot to adjust to. It will all take time. There is no magical end date when everything returns to whatever “normal” used to be. Each of us will approach these adjustments in our own way, with our own coping skills, our own stresses and our own joys. What’s easy for some of us will be harder for others. What some of us find impossible, others will have no trouble with.
However joyful or cautious you feel about the current state of the pandemic, it is not over yet. Fifty per cent of people are unvaccinated, there is no vaccine yet for children younger than 12, breakthrough illness is possible (but rare), virus variants continue to emerge, and worldwide the pandemic is still out of control. We have a long way to go.
So let’s savor that vaccines are now widely and easily available, that our communities grow safer every day, that most of us are now able to spend time with friends and family, and always, always…please be gentle with yourselves and with each other.