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Dahleen Glanton: Why I’m still in pandemic mode, four weeks after my second vaccine dose

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/6/2021 Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune
a person walking down a sidewalk: Pedestrians pass a social distancing reminder Monday, March 29, 2021, along the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago. © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Pedestrians pass a social distancing reminder Monday, March 29, 2021, along the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago.

It’s been four weeks since I received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but very little has changed for me. I’m still living in pandemic mode.

The only difference is that when I’m out for a walk, I no longer step off the sidewalk and onto the street when I approach someone who’s not wearing a mask.

Turns out, “cave mentality” is a thing. Though we show off our vaccine cards like a winning lottery ticket, many people are reluctant to venture back into the world.

One of my friends recently declared that she’s never going to eat in a restaurant again. I’m not taking it that far, though. I’m looking forward to doing fun things again — just not today or tomorrow.

That might not be such a bad thing since federal health officials are warning us about “impending doom” from a potential fourth surge of the virus.

I’ve gotten used to having my guard up. There are too many questions, too many conflicting messages and still too much careless behavior out there for me to completely let it down right now.

Not only are some people still refusing to wear masks or insist on wearing them improperly, those pesky COVID-19 variants are lurking out there too. I’d prefer to avoid those if I can.

Like most people, I had anxiously waited for the moment when life would go back to the way it was before this virus took over the world. I started thinking about my to-do list as soon as the vaccines were approved.

I would take the bus again, rather than spend $30 to park my car in a public garage. I would dine at my favorite hibachi-style restaurant, seated with strangers around a big table. I would go to a nail salon for a mani-pedi and see a movie at the multiplex theater.

As far as returning to the real world right now, it feels like I’m standing at the edge of a swimming pool too afraid to jump in because the water is cold. Meanwhile, others already are splashing around in it because their bodies quickly adjusted to the temperature.

Though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it’s OK for people who have been vaccinated to gather in groups with other vaccinated people without wearing masks, I’m not ready. I winced when my doctor said we could take off our masks when I return to her office for a follow-up visit next month.

Just when I was getting the nerve to take an express bus downtown, a friend told me that he took a bus over the weekend, and it was so crowded that the bus driver was telling people to enter at their own risk.

Bus drivers have the authority to stop only to let people off or bypass stops if the bus is becoming crowded. That’s what should happen when there are 20 or more passengers on a standard bus or 30 or more passengers on a larger, articulated bus.

But as we know, everybody doesn’t follow the rules. That’s what scares me.

It’s difficult to know exactly where the virus stands right now. Every day, it seems, there’s a new directive from the mayor, the governor and the federal government.

As we celebrated President Joe Biden’s news that he had exceeded his initial goal of administering 150 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office and was increasing it to 200 million, the CDC burst our bubble.

Even as more people are being vaccinated, new COVID-19 cases are spiking across the country. That doesn’t make sense. The vaccine was supposed to keep that from happening, wasn’t it?

Though some 158 million people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, it isn’t nearly enough to stop an anticipated new surge the virus. Health officials are pleading with Americans to take precautions.

Our fears intensified last week when CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she was “scared” and felt “impending doom” about where the country is headed. The average number of new cases increased by 10% to about 60,000 cases a day, she said. Hospitalizations and deaths are up as well.

Later, the CDC had to walk back Walensky’s statement that vaccinated people never become infected or transmit the virus. If she’s correct, people wondered, why do we still have to wear masks?

Turns out, the CDC doesn’t actually know whether vaccinated people can spread the virus. All they know for sure is that the vaccines significantly reduce the chances of contracting the virus and transmitting it to others. And while Pfizer announced last week that its vaccine offers protection for at least six months, no one is sure whether we will still be covered beyond that.

So, what are we supposed to think? These mixed messages aren’t doing anything to instill confidence in those who have been wary of the vaccine from the start. And it doesn’t make those of us who scrambled to get the vaccine as soon as possible feel comfortable enough to start living again.

Perhaps that’s the point. As of last week, only 17% of Americans were fully immunized. We cannot reach heard immunity until millions more are vaccinated. Thankfully, that could happen sooner that we thought.

Biden said last week that the U.S. is more than doubling the number of pharmacies that can administer the vaccine. By April 19, he said, 90% of adults will be eligible for the vaccine and will be able to get it within 5 miles of where they live.

Let’s just hope people are willing to get the vaccines once they are more accessible. If they don’t, we’re doomed.

There’s a chance that the normal we once knew no longer exists. That doesn’t mean we won’t regain most of the freedoms we lost over the past year. It just means we’ll have to be extra careful far longer than we’d like.

I’ve gotten used to ordering takeout and getting together with friends and family via Zoom. I’ve even learned to manage my breathing while wearing a mask on long walks. But there’s nothing like sitting on the lakefront and feeling the sun on your bare face.

For the time being, I’m still going to keep hanging out in my cave. When I do come out, I’ll wear my mask and hope that everyone I come in contact with has the decency to wear one too.

That’s really all any of us can do.

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