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Preparing for Social “Un-Distancing”

Looking forward to reconnecting, mask-free smiling and better elder care
April 26th, 2021

by Jim Towey

The “Covid-fatigue” plaguing America – the desire to return to normal interaction with other human beings, end the isolation of the elderly, and return to the life we knew before the pandemic – is surging.  Fortunately, hope is on the way.

As the number of fully vaccinated Americans continues to rise (according to today’s Washington Post, 140 million Americans have been vaccinated), and warm weather approaches, there is optimism that some of the sweeping restrictions on everyday life will be scaled back.  Hallelujah!   

Droplets of change are in the air?  President Biden request of Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration times out soon.  Last month, the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines for what fully vaccinated people can safely do, loosening some restrictions in some settings on mask wearing and social distancing.  Public health officials continue to recommend the wearing of masks in public, but acknowledge that such sweeping bans likely will no longer be necessary after a broader swath of Americans is fully-vaccinated. 

Low risk level

Today’s Wall Street Journal had an excellent piece by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.  He calls for the end of CDC mask mandates for people outdoors, and bases his recommendation on the scientific data now available.  Gottlieb rightly calls for Americans to understand that the future will require an acceptance of a low level of risk, just as when we step into a car or airplane, eat food prepared by others, or worship beside our neighbors. Americans can manage risk sensibly, if permitted, which may mean wearing masks in some settings and remaining socially distant in others.

Risk can be managed, not eliminated.  We are not in the last days of COVID and, in my opinion, will not be any time soon.  Reports of new outbreaks and variants, including India’s “double-mutant” Covid variant, will continue.  Caution is warranted lest our leaders cry wolf when discussing these predictable mutations of the virus.  In early January, Governor Cuomo in New York warned about a “frightening” new “game-changer” variant from England and a potential catastrophe that never even remotely materialized.  Earlier this month, a former Biden Covid adviser made a similarly dire forecast that, too, appears to be illusory.  You also can expect a wave of stories of individuals who have received the vaccination and still contracted Covid, as was reported in today’s Washington Post feature.  Science, not scare tactics, should inform our decisions as we manage tolerable risk.

Reconnecting with others

Americans have heard the drumbeat of public service announcements on the necessity of social distancing, masking, and avoiding personal contact with others.  Shouldn’t our country be planning to conform its mass messaging to the need to reconnect with those around us?  President Biden has Dr. Anthony Fauci as his chief medical adviser, Dr. David Kessler as his chief science advisor, and the “Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force” which looks at the spread of the virus among vulnerable populations.  Where is the dedicated voice at the White House that advocates for re-engagement with neighbors and visitation with shut-ins, and underscores the science that says, in most cases, it soon will be safe to get within six feet of each other again?  Who will advise the president on the need for revised visitation policies to be immediately lifted at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities?  In Northern Virginia, there remain strict limitations on the number of visitors to those facilities and the permissible lengths of such visits, even though 100% of the residents have been fully vaccinated.

I was taught as a child that in life there is no such thing as free lunch.  That lesson has proved true.  There also is no such thing as risk-free living.  The time is fast approaching when a national campaign for social un-distancing, for mask-free smiling, for the unrestricted enjoyment of the outdoors, is undertaken.  The separation and isolation we have tolerated during the pandemic cannot become the new normal.

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