COVID-19

Like sex without a condom

Indiana’s mask mandate ended in early April. While a few counties opted to continue it, the one I live in did not.

Even though Margaret and I are both vaccinated, we have continued to wear masks even where it isn’t required, and we have continued to stay out of indoor public places except when strictly necessary. Two of our adult children still live with us, and they are not yet vaccinated. One of them has a health condition that puts them at extra risk. We didn’t want to risk bringing it home to them. We know that our vaccinations make the likelihood low, but the impact sure could be high if it happened.

My chiropractor’s office was the first place in my world to shed their masks. The woman behind the desk directly encouraged me to leave my mask behind on my next visit. Then I started seeing a small number of people ignore various businesses’ mask requirements.

Meijer

Last Saturday, when I went to Meijer to do the week’s shopping, they no longer required masks. I’d say 70 percent of shoppers shopped bare faced.

Meijer was a bellwether for me. If they aren’t requiring masks, other businesses assuredly aren’t either — including the restaurant and retail store where our two adult children work. Shortly, none will.

Margaret said, “If the kids get it, it is going to be from where they work. We can’t protect them anymore.” She was right.

We’ve been strongly encouraging them both to get vaccinated, but neither has been interested. One was concerned about side effects. I told them both that my own reading says that they were far more likely to have a bad time with COVID than they were with any of the available vaccines, but it didn’t move them.

I’m the kind of dad who would say, “Look, my house, my rules. Get vaccinated. If you want to follow your own rules, get your own house.” But these are Margaret’s kids, and Margaret doesn’t parent in the same way I do. She continues to encourage them. One of them finally agreed to do it and has one Pfizer shot in him. The other remains disinterested.

BW3

I said to Margaret, “I don’t know what you think about it, but I think it’s okay for us to relax our vigilance.” She agreed. So we’re no longer masking up in places that don’t require it. And Sunday we took the plunge: we walked over to the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near our home, went inside, and ate cheeseburgers and drank beer. “It feels like sex without a condom,” Margaret said as we sat down.

I did feel slight anxiety as we entered, but it melted when our first round of beers arrived. (I had a Porter that tasted like coffee and chocolate. I love a good Porter!) It felt like it had been only a week since our last visit to a restaurant, not 15 months.

Meanwhile, my company has announced that they are opening the office June 7. They aren’t requiring anyone to return just yet, but working in the office will be available for those who want it. Anyone vaccinated will not have to wear a mask, but we have to place a copy of our vaccination cards on file with HR.

Switching suddenly to working from home last year was surprisingly stressful. I had to learn a lot of new habits and figure out how to cope with Zoom fatigue. (On a typical work day, I’m on Zoom six or seven hours.) I suspect that if I were to return full time to the office, I’d experience similar stress. To spread out that stress, I’ve decided to work one day a week in the office, and add days slowly.

Probably later this year, my company will end this flexibility and ask us to choose among working remotely full time, or working in the office full time, or working a hybrid schedule at home Monday and/or Wednesday but in the office the rest of the week.

I choose the hybrid schedule. There have been big benefits to working from home — shedding my hour round-trip commute, being able to walk and ride my bike more, slipping in a load of laundry here and there, even being able to cut the grass on my lunch hour. I’d like to keep some of that. Truly, these benefits are so strong that I considered never returning to the office.

But I miss the people. As a pegging-the-meter introvert, I don’t need much human contact. But I need some, and my needs have not been met during the pandemic. I didn’t realize until I didn’t have it anymore just how much of that need is met in the office. Also, when I’m back in the office I will have a much easier time building the relationships I need at work to influence things to go the way I want. Most of the company is choosing the hybrid schedule, so I’ll see most people there and be able to have the casual interactions with them that I’ve always used to build bonds.

I know the pandemic isn’t over. Not enough people are vaccinated to create herd immunity. We don’t know how long the vaccines last just yet, and we don’t know whether they protect against the variants yet to come. I’m moving forward on some faith, recognizing that we might have to isolate again. I’m sure I’ll experience that as a blow if it comes. But I can’t defend against every possible future event. I’m choosing to act on the current reality.

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29 thoughts on “Like sex without a condom

  1. Don’t feel too bad, Jim; we have two kids who are “leaning negative” on the vaccine despite the fact their mother is a medical school graduate. Chances of a bad side-effect from the jab is one is several million, whereas chance of death from the disease is 3 out of 100. I guess kids today can’t do math either.
    My advice to all such “no vaccine for me” people is: stay out of the casinos.

    • It is surprising to me that our kids weren’t eager, but I’m sure they haven’t done the research and reading I’ve done as they weren’t as bothered by the prospect of getting the virus as their mom and I are.

  2. Saturday night, I ate in a restaurant for the first time since March 13, 2020. Like you, a little bit of beer (an amber and a brown ale from Teays River) helped ease the anxiety. It still felt weird to not wear a mask after a year of having nightmares about being in public without one.

    • It is kind of weird not to wear a mask now. Not that I ever enjoyed wearing a mask. I stepped into a Mexican restaurant for lunch – we ate on the patio but I had to go in to get a table. I chose to not wear a mask, but the whole staff was masked and I felt like I’d misstepped somehow.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    I object to the “politicization” of mask wearing! It’s the most effective way to blunt the covid virus without just staying home! I still wear mine when I go into shopping areas, etc. even tho many are shedding them. I wear my mask because, 50% of my state is filled with marginally educated who won’t wear masks and won’t get a vax, and believe what right-wing media says. They are imbeciles. I’ve started going to places with pals, but only if we are all vax’d, and only if we can sit outside when we dine! Most all my pals feel the same way I do. Who knows what some idiot is going to do to bring a variation to you that your “jab” won’t cover?

    I won’t be responsible for bringing a covid variation into a situation that could end up infecting someone who is infirm. It is what we used to call “citizenship”. And NO, having read the constitution fully when I was working for the census, there is no part of the Constitution of the United States that authorizes you to practice a behavior that could end up causing someone else’s death; no matter what right-wing radio tells you!

    • It’s disappointing to me that mask wearing became politicized. I am somewhat sympathetic to some cries that governors overstepped with their mandates; perhaps those mandates should have come from legislatures. But I don’t see how it’s disputable that masks worked to dramatically reduce transmission.

    • Andy, I live in the South, and the states here are the poster children for imbeciles who refuse to wear masks because they are marginally educated and hate (or do not understand) science. Yes, some loud-mouth politician definitely knows more than thousands of doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians and chemists. I still have not eaten inside in sit-down restaurants, just outside where there is a deck or balcony.

  4. I think we are moving too quickly. This thing isn’t gone yet. I am fully vaccinated, but I am still being careful. Not enough of the population has had their shot yet.

    • It’s certainly an individual call. I agree, it’s not gone yet. So far, the data says that the vaccine protects against the variants that are out there. I’ll keep searching and reading for info as time goes on, looking for variants the vaccine doesn’t protect us from, and for information about how long the vaccine lasts without a booster. But what I’m reading now says that since I’m vaccinated, I’m incredibly unlikely to catch COVID, but if I do, I’m even more incredibly unlikely to get sick with it.

  5. Michael says:

    Thank M for the click-bait title. :)

    Hope you’ll be able to find the Yuengling Hershey’s Chocolate Porter again someday. It was heavenly.

    Personally, I’ve never had concerns going out in public (stores, restaurants, movies, church, full flights) throughout all this mess but am careful about it. Maybe I got it anyway and didn’t really know it. I still wear my mask in general and only get close to folks for brief periods whenever possible.

    • I’ll be on the lookout for that Porter! We did avoid being in public when it wasn’t strictly necessary. We felt it was the right call for us.

  6. Roger Meade says:

    Wife and I are fully vaccinated for two months now and feeling fairly confident of protection despite age and various infirmities. I have decided that the exposure time is one factor that is not really covered well enough. Most of the cases I am aware of or have read of have been examples of close proximity for extended periods of time, perhaps 1/2 hour or more. We do go out now a couple of times a week to places that are thinly populated. Plus I have not heard of any cases so far of vaccinated folks getting sick. We will change behavior if that situation changes- no politics involved.

  7. Darts and Letters says:

    Yesterday was the first time I’ve been anyplace indoors besides various routine health and medical appointments or the grocery store. it was a really long meeting at our architect, with four people in their office. Everyone who works at their firm is vaccinated so they don’t wear masks around each other during the work day but they were really cool and each person in the conference room with us masked up, it was no big deal. We didn’t request it, they had let us know everyone there was vaccinated (and we had informed them that we were as well). But I knew gong in that I was going to be masked. We are masking indoors until our youngest is fully vaccinated. Our architect shook my hand when he met us, that was bit of a jolt to me, I didn’t particularly care for that but I like him a lot, he’s a good soul and I just chuckled on the way home with my wife how far dang I have to go to get 8used to such things.. First time I shook anyone’s hand in a whole year. Not a practice I’ll be adopting with regularity anytime soon (nor the goofy elbow bumps_). I was very interested to hear about Meijer, a store chain I grew up shopping at (up in MI). 70 % unmasked? Wow. This is a good reminder for me how all over the board the country is on pandemic safety measures. Here, most any grocery store still requires masking. I’ve lost track what the official mandate is from our governor.

    As usual, very gracious and thoughtful commentary on difficult topics. Thanks for sharing this Jim, I really appreciate it. Much respect for your sharing and relating
    -Jason

    • How to move forward is such a personal decision, isn’t it? Our feelings and our circumstances intersect, and we conclude what to do from there.

      It is strange to shake hands again.

      Indiana is a mighty red state. The part I live in isn’t belligerently red, though other parts are. All along, I’ve overheard people in Meijer (and Aldi and CVS) bemoaning government overreach and lack of personal freedom, typical red state stuff. But people complied. I don’t believe I saw a single person who didn’t. Some wore the mask loosely and kept having to pull it up, and some wouldn’t cover their nose, but the mast was at least vaguely around their faces.

      Meijer arrived in central Indiana in about 1994. I remember when the first ones opened in Indianapolis. One was near my home, and I shopped there for 25 years. My grandparents lived in southwest Michigan, near Dowagiac, when I was a kid. Watching TV out of Grand Rapids, I remember the ads for Mejier from the 70s and early 80s. But it wasn’t until 1994 and Indianapolis that I ever saw or set foot in one.

  8. I have some convoluted rules about the mask at this point. I still wear it in the grocery and other places that are crowded. I don’t so much in places that aren’t busy. But if I encounter someone in a mask who looks nervous or if the space is confined, I put it on as a courtesy to the other person. lol. It’s weird, I know.

    Last weekend I was part of a tour group where a woman demanded to know everyone’s vaccination status. It was wildly uncomfortable for everyone, myself included even though I’m not ashamed to be vaccinated or to wear the mask. Oddly enough- she and her hubby were unmasked and made no attempt to social distance.

    I’m still working from home and expect some direction from my employer soon. I would love to work with a hybrid model but will do whatever they think is best for the bank.

    Great post, Jim!

    • I can be kind of a hothead when people accost me like that woman on the tour group did you. “None of your damn business.”

      My company asked everyone what they wanted and used that to form the approach we’re taking. Honestly, if it weren’t for my commute I’d go in every day. It’s an hour round trip, more when traffic is heavy. I know people who live in larger cities scoff at my commute for being so puny, but it is a real burden.

      • My commute is about twelve minutes one way and even I don’t enjoy that. Terrible, I know because I’ve had longer commutes. I am more productive and happier at home so I’m hopeful I get to stay here at least some.

        As for the woman- I was fascinated by my own reaction. I had just gotten through volunteering to the docent that I’m vaccinated but that I would wear my mask if it made him more comfortable. That woman and her demand was infuriating and rude even to someone who doesn’t mind talking about it. I can promise you at least one man lied. He was clearly lying when he said yes so it wasn’t at all a productive question to ask.

  9. My personal social needs are dependent on being in an office. I have friends who have her been work colleagues. Pre-COVID, I had my wife’s family, photography club, Macintosh club, tech Meetup, etc. where I’ve made really good friends. I’m 54. I don’t need friendship from my work colleagues.

    I want all of the benefits of working from home which includes being able to have lunch with a friend. For me there was no advantage to working in an office, and too much downside (two hour commute to work). I’m stressed over the thought of dressing up, commuting, working in an environment that’s not mine, and constantly worrying about how others perceive me. Corporate offices are crap.

    • I’m not looking for friendship in the office, though it has happened a couple times. Just some human interaction outside my family. I have a couple really good friends and that’s all I really need.

  10. Thankfully I was able to ride out the pandemic with parental leave. Although I would have been working from home anyway now so in retrospect I could have stayed on part time and take the money. I hope my employer offers a flexible hybrid model. With a small kid even with day care this is the way of the future. Regular days at the office with meetings and interactions, remote work for anything that requires either alone time or flexibility with kids. But I also agree with Khürt…I don’t need work for friends and many of the “friends” there did not bother to keep in touch as soon as I was out for my parental year. I actually made more friends in the pandemic than in the 10 years at my office.

    If you follow my blog you probably know my stance on masks ;-) so no need to repeat my side. There is too much COVID discussion everywhere already. But I get the feeling of uneasiness. One state in Germany wanted to drop mask mandates in shops at a certain infection threshold and there was quite a vocal backlash of people demanding to keep the mandate and the plan was abandonend. I worry about some people who will have difficulties adjusting back to a normal life with touching, hugging, barefaced people on commuter trains and so on.

    Honestly I think Margaret’s approach to her kids seems better. If you can’t convince someone with empathy and patience you won’t be able to do it with a forceful “my house” rule. And in the end they are adults and they must make up their own mind, weigh the risks and benefits. Only way to help is to kindly show where you see the risks and benefits. I had discussions with friends and families about it and I always said they should read up on their own and that I would provide some of my information if they want it. Some decided for the vaccine other against. My wife and I are pretty happy in the “control group” as we say jokingly…but it was a decision based on a lot of research and risk evaluation. If COVID turns out to be more dangerous in the coming winter season and more long-term data about the vaccine safety comes in I am open to change my mind.

    Thanks for sharing your feelings about the situation. There is going to be some adjustment for people in the future.

    • I don’t mean to conflate “human contact” with “friendship” — I don’t need to make friends in the office, but I do enjoy the office environment and being physically present with others.

      I don’t want to get too deep into parenting philosophy here, but I believe there are moments when I as the one providing the house do get to determine how things will be. I’m all for letting people find their own way, but when you live together in a house you are all bound together. Our kids not getting vaccinated were, for a time, holding Margaret and I back from doing things. They had no rationale for not doing it; they were simply disinterested. I needed them to weigh it seriously. If they did and said their research led them to say no, I would likely have backed off.

      • I see your point and I do agree. You are right to at least expect an informed decision when indecision affects your life as well. I thought they were adults already living on their own.

  11. It will be interesting to see what the next few months bring. A premature declaration of victory has been the undoing of many over the years. Because we have managed so far to keep the pandemic at the border for the most part, we are able to go about our lives without masks most of the time, the main exception being when using public transport, such as flying. Vaccinations are just getting going here, my wife has had hers because she works in health, I am hoping to have mine in the next month. The 1918 pandemic is still quite instructive though – around 1m deaths world wide in the first year, 50m in the second. I am happy to live cautiously for a while yet.

    • Indiana’s reopening has got to be at least partly politically motivated. Our Republican governor was under pressure from his party to reopen, but he held the line for a long time. When the CDC advised that the vaccinated should get about their normal lives, he instantly reopened.

  12. This is an interesting post. My entire close family -mom, stepdad, sister, and I have been vaccinated. My brother stubbornly refuses because he thinks he already got COVID back in November. I live with him. Oh well.

    My sister has been extremely worried about getting even after becoming vaccinated, but the pandemic only seems to have exacerbated her tendencies to withdraw and be unavailable. When she messaged that she was excited to see me after the two week post-vaccination period I laughed since even prior to the pandemic she’d done little to visit, calling off at the last minute for myriad reasons and so on.

    My stepdad was emboldened by the trump movement and has been a dick everywhere he goes, so there’s that. He has been taking off his mask in public for a long time, or has been late to put it on.

    I am an “office worker” in a light manufacturing plant and 9/10 people on the production floor west their masks like a goober with a motorcycle wears a beard; a chin strap. It is hugely unpopular to be vaccinated amongst these people. I let it slip to one person who decided it was necessary to unironically run a magnet up and down my arm to locate the microchip.

    The magnet didn’t stick. For what it’s worth!

    • The very idea that someone buys into the misrepresentations and untruths so much that they’d actually run a magnet over you looking for the microchip fills me with considerable anger and sadness.

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