Well, that didn’t last very long.

I am talking, of course, about our brief reprieve from the realities of COVID-19.

On May 24, the mask mandate was lifted in Maine. The state of emergency ended on June 30.

On July 1, I wrote about my gradual re-entry into a mask-free life.

On July 25, I posted “I have returned to wearing a mask indoor in public places” on my Facebook page.

On July 28, the Maine CDC again recommended masking in counties with high transmission rates, and in schools.

I’m a little angry, to be sure, but more resigned. Most of all, I am determined to not get sick.

I know that, as a fully vaccinated resident of Kennebec County, I shouldn’t worry. (At least at this writing — the transmission rate could change at any time.) But I feel that wearing a mask indoors is an easy thing to do. I expect that I will be wearing a mask all day when I return to work as a school librarian in a few weeks. Even the fully vaccinated can pass on the virus, and I don’t want to do that.

And how would I get it? From all those unvaccinated people walking around. I don’t trust other people. Maine has a vaccination rate of close to 70%. That means if I’m at the grocery store with 100 people, 30 of them are unvaccinated and should be wearing masks. Virtually no one was wearing masks in what I’m now thinking of as the “happy season” (mid-June to mid-July), including me. That wasn’t right.

Now, I generally see five to six people on an average visit. So, there could be 10 or 12 shoppers in total, because obviously I’m not seeing everyone. Still not enough. And I’m betting that most of those people are vaccinated.

But I get nervous at the thought of walking around unvaccinated people who aren’t wearing masks.

When the mask mandate was lifted, there were other people like me who couldn’t go without a face covering indoors right away. I think that’s only natural. If, for more than a year, you have to follow certain rules, the habit is formed. The mindset is, if I don’t wear a mask, keep my distance, wash my hands, I will get sick. Health experts in the media were saying that people should unmask at their own comfort level.

For me, that came in late June. A month had passed since the mandate was lifted, and case numbers were low.

It was so wonderful to be able shop and dine indoors without a mask. I was able to smile at people again. My husband, Paul, and I spent a week on Penobscot Bay, as we have for the past 19 years. Last year, we didn’t eat out, even outdoors. Shopping was limited to groceries.

This year, we took day trips to some of our favorite towns, stopping at indie bookstores. We ate outdoors most of the time, but because that’s the preferred thing to do in Maine in the summer, not because we had to.

Ah, freedom.

But when we returned home, I started hearing hoof beats of caution. There’s a saying I like: “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.” In other words, you probably have a tension headache, not a brain tumor. But in this case, it sounded to me like a zebra was on the horizon — the Delta variant. As transmissible as chicken pox. And the source of an alarming rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Many medical experts in the media were now saying they were masking up in public indoor spaces, often to protect their young children or vulnerable elderly parents.

The number of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated is small, but still concerning. The outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, makes the point.

As a New York Times story about the situation stated: “The quirky community at the tip of Cape Cod…thought it was safe to return to prepandemic partying. It wasn’t.”

Some 965 cases have been traced to Provincetown. Three-quarters of these people had been vaccinated. The town itself has a 95% vaccination rate among permanent residents, but it’s a tourist hot spot that was especially crowded over the Fourth of July weekend.

The good news is that only a handful of people had to be hospitalized, and no one died. Also in the good news department, vaccination rates nationwide are slowly increasing as more people see the light. We are not where we were last summer, still in the midst of the unknown, vaccinations only on the horizon. Doctors know how to treat the virus and the vaccine is readily available, for free, for everyone.

But we’re still in the fray. Unless more people are vaccinated, variants will continue to mutate.

I will continue to wear a mask indoors for the foreseeable future. I won’t be eating indoors at restaurants or going to the movie theater. I’m still doing more than I did last summer, and I’m grateful for that.

But I can’t help but wish our hiatus had lasted a little longer.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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