Froma Harrop: Hope up and guard down as pandemic starts to weaken?
Summary: The hope in this country is that the pandemic will end around summer. As the scourge shows more definite signs of weakening, we who tried to do the right things may be able to relax — if just a little. This will be a strange time.
Are we at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Let's call it the middle.
The COVID-19 numbers are going decisively lower, both infections and deaths. Millions, meanwhile, are getting the vaccine and becoming mostly immune to the disease.
Still, the seven-day average of American deaths from this virus continues in the thousands. And it would be much higher if more of us let our guard down by ignoring calls to wear masks, socially distance and sanitize hands.
We each make our own policy for how far to go. There are the absolutists, who take no chances. They see no friends and never enter a restaurant, much less step on a plane.
Then there are moderates, like yours truly, who always wear a mask in public but do gather with their "pod" of careful friends. We eat in establishments that take precautions.
Finally, there are those who don't care at all and do nothing. They risk their own life and the lives of others.
As we move into a somewhat less scary phase of this disease, we moderates probably have the most to think about. That's because we were always open to weighing more options.
Consideration No. 1: mask-wearing. Of course we'll continue wearing masks. But two masks with one of tight-fitting cloth, as Dr. Anthony Fauci advises? On public transportation, OK. But as the risks of infection heads down, perhaps we can lighten up and wear just a lightweight mask while on a walk.
Infectious-disease experts now believe that outdoor activities rarely cause the disease to spread unless people are in close conversation. They say that with a few exceptions, we can safely jog or bike without a mask.
That said, hospitals are still rationing medical-grade N95 masks even as their stockpiles grow, according to the Associated Press. Why? They remain traumatized by the terrifying mask shortage of a year ago and don't want to be caught short-handed again. They also fear a future surge in cases. (More on that later.)
We moderates continue to frown on the maskless multitudes who crowd at superspreader events. A recent example would be the bar parties following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl win. Health officials in Florida warn of a possible coronavirus spike as a result. For people like me, the difference now is we take all that reckless behavior less personally.
Consideration No. 2: traveling. Early in the pandemic, I flew across the country on a JetBlue flight with few passengers and distanced seating. I would not go on a crowded jet. Now that I've had my first shot, I worry less about flying. When I get the second one, I'll hop right on.
Consideration No. 3: guilt. As frontline workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people get their protective vaccinations, less stigma is attached to easing up a bit on the restrictions.
However, unsettling thoughts remain. New coronavirus variants are reportedly more infectious and not as easily tamed by some of the vaccines. Variants are reportedly reinfecting people who survived the early version of the disease. And, undoubtedly, more variants are coming at us.
To reach herd immunity, 60 to 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated or protected by prior infection, according to medical experts. If the 15 percent of Americans who say they'll never get the vaccine follow through on that vow, that goal could be hard to reach.
The hope in this country is that the pandemic will end around summer. As the scourge shows more definite signs of weakening, we who tried to do the right things may be able to relax — if just a little. This will be a strange time.
Froma Harrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.