Column: You know what's not rational? Telling people how to act while vaccinated

·5 min read
SANTA MONICA, CA - MAY 04: Kyra Jacob, 23, visiting from Atlanta is on FaceTime with her Mother as she shops on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on Tuesday May 4, 2021 as Los Angeles County continues to rebound dramatically from a deadly winter COVID-19 surge, and with vaccinations continuing at a rapid pace there's increasing certainty that public health officials will move the county (and its many businesses, large and small) into the state's least restrictive reopening tier this week. Third Street Promenade on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Santa Monica, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times).
Kyra Jacob, on FaceTime with her mother as she shops on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, masked. Let her enjoy it. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Apparently what doesn’t kill us makes us … just as politicized and judgmental as we were before.

Not all of us, obviously. Certainly not me and probably not you. Unless you happen to be the woman who recently used her outdoor voice to inform me and my daughter, masked strangers passing on a sidewalk, that the CDC has said masks are no longer required outside.

Um, okay, we are aware, but we were just inside and it seems easier to just leave the mask on, especially since my daughter, at 14, has not been vaccinated. Oh, and why am I even explaining this? If we want to wear light-up donkey ears and matching Tigger and Pooh onesies, it is none of your damn business. Do you not know you live in California?

I am definitely hoping you are not one of those folks taking to the many political and professional platforms formerly known as “social media” to declare that vaccinated people who do not rush out to movie theaters or queue up for indoor dining are at best “irrational” and at worst setting terrible examples for the vaccine-hesitant.

Did you know, dear vaccinated reader, that on top of surviving a pandemic, the most traumatic presidential election cycle in American history and whatever devastating personal, economic or psychological toll 2020 took on you, it is now your job to prove to skeptics that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is important?

I did not. Civic duty superpowers were not on the list of side effects handed to me while I waited for 15 minutes in the elated, relieved and grateful silence of the Cal Poly Pomona vaccination center. Sore arm, yes, flu-like symptoms, yes, but no mention of the ability to make the blind see or the deaf hear.

Neither was I instructed to go forth and flaunt the effectiveness of the vaccine by wearing my mask only when absolutely required (pretty much everywhere indoors) and throwing myself back into pre-pandemic life as if I was 20 again. Is the sight of me rushing to Disneyland supposed to perform some Jedi mind trick on people who think the vaccine is another attempt by Big Pharma to give them cancer that will require expensive drug treatments? Because frankly, I've got my own problems at this point.

I did recently go to the movies and I recommend it highly. But I do not consider those who choose to wait a while “irrational." It was just a few months ago that L.A. County was as purple as a black eye, and people younger than 75 who had gotten the vaccine were accused of line-jumping and code-stealing. Now the tables have turned; what hasn't changed is the bottomless human capacity for petty scolding. Fashions change but everyone always has something to say about what you're wearing, apparently.

Many of us live with 16 and unders who are still ineligible for the vaccine. Young people as a whole may seem at less risk from serious infection, but some kids have gotten very sick and a few have died. My 14-year-old's school just opened three weeks ago and I would like it to stay that way. Nor am I willing to risk her getting even a mild case just in time for summer vacation.

With much of the world still tight in COVID-19's grip, it also seems crass to insist that vaccinated Americans act as if the pandemic was simply a bad dream from which we are now waking. Plenty of states are still experiencing spikes, and the impact of variants remains unknown.

For all the calls to "rationality," such policing seems knee-jerkingly reflexive. How can it be that mere weeks since most Americans became eligible to get the vaccine, their vaccinated behavior is suddenly so scrutinized — and their motives so quickly presumed? Maybe I'm in a mask so I don't forget to wear one when I go into Ralphs. Maybe I'm doing it out of an abundance of caution or as a mark of solidarity. Maybe I just like the way I look in a face mask. Why does anyone care, exactly?

I hoped that enduring a pandemic might bring us together; as the infection rates fall, we should be celebrating, not picking each other apart. Yet in these tenuously united states, even celebration has become politicized. Those who never acknowledged the peril of the coronavirus (until, occasionally, they were struck down by it), point to people’s hesitancy to throw off their masks as proof that the pandemic was a con job from the beginning. Others fear that going mask-free even outside might expose them, and therefore their children, to infection plumes from those who are not vaccinated.

More unfortunately but undeniably, some of us are not ready to even appear to validate those who threw tantrums about mask requirements as thousands were dying around them. (Why so many people object so fiercely to wearing a few inches of fabric on their face to avoid a deadly disease remains a mystery, but then, historically, it was also a battle to convince some folks not to bury their dead or empty their bowels near their water supply; recalcitrance reigns eternal.)

It may simply take us at least a few more weeks to trust feeling hopeful. Burned by the fact that so many earlier re-openings led to spikes and re-closures, many of us are reluctant to commit to actual relief. (It seems the economy, at least, is still feeling skittish.) After a solid year of grim charts and horrifying headlines, the fact that no one in L.A. County died from COVID-19 in the span of two days seemed impossible.

But it’s true because the vaccines are working. And if more people get them, they will work even better. And that’s the only “rational” behavior anyone should be concerned about at this point.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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