The winding down of the pandemic is coinciding with the winding up of summer. The streets are ablaze with out-of-state license plates, dog leashes run crisscross applesauce across the sidewalks and the blare of car alarms fills the air.
What is it with car alarms? Other than the amusement value of watching a frantic owner try to turn the dang thing off, they do not seem to be all that helpful. Have you ever seen anyone in black pants, black turtleneck and a stocking mask at the scene of a shrieking car alarm, or even sprinting away? Have you ever called the local police department to request the constabulary pay a visit to a vehicle talking to itself at the top of its lungs?
But we digress. The Great Unmasking has begun. Eagerly awaited these many months by those who observed mask requirements, we are a bit twitchy about it now that it is here. With the all–clear signal given, at least for the great outdoors, we feel like we are removing not just our masks but every stitch of clothing we had on.
When masks first appeared, there was the novelty of it, the feeling that this is not something we do here. When more and more people masked up, it became ordinary. Next came the little thrill during winter of finding that masks helped us stay warm. Then spring arrived and that additional warmth was no longer welcome. We still wore them but were constantly tugging them up, and then down, depending on sidewalk traffic.
The standard greeting of “Hi, how are you?” was replaced with a furrowed brow and a more serious, “How are you doing?” Then it was, “Are you vaccinated?” Now it’s, “Are you going to wear a mask?”
The astonishing thing is that having fought so long to get us into our masks, the CDC now cannot get us out of them. That’s OK. Better safe than sorry. And there is a fringe benefit: When is the last time you had a cold?
The current CDC guidelines – surprise! – do not require masks for fully–vaccinated people in most settings. The exceptions are on airplanes or other public transport, health care facilities and congregate living situations (including prisons). Schools? Er, not sure. Many of the specifics were left to the states. Lifting the limits at the federal level made everything more complicated closer to home.
As we labored over each and every decision for the coming summer – concerts? fireworks? seafood festivals? softball? – suddenly, poof, anything was possible. There is a long lead time for planning these events. The successful conclusion of one summer event marks the beginning of planning for the following year. With the new guidelines, event planners may be ruing the cancellations they reluctantly announced just weeks or days ago.
With interstate travel unrestricted, a sojourner might find different rules from state to state. There is even more pressure on state governments to let it all hang out, facially speaking. Some of us are ready, some of us not so much. Look at our streets already covered with tourists and you will note that plenty of us are not ready to part with our masks. As the temperature rises, assuming no spike in COVID cases, we may gain confidence, at least outdoors. Indoors is another story.
It was just a week ago that Governor Janet Mills’ administration announced the state would be following new federal guidelines. Masks may be abandoned outdoors but must still be worn in “public indoor settings.” Capacity limits are lifted indoors but physical distancing must be maintained where people are unmasked, as in bars and restaurants. As for schools, there will be an update from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
It is easy to be critical of government efforts to steer us through the pandemic. In an unprecedented situation, at least in this lifetime, one could reasonably expect some false starts, some course reversals. Still, this is a surprising turn of events at the time of year when Maine’s population triples.
The success of the new guidelines depends on the cooperation of those who are not vaccinated, yet they have not been exactly cooperative thus far. Excluding children under 12 and others who have a medical reason to defer vaccination, how likely is it that people who refused vaccination are now going to wear masks inside? How will we know?
With every indication that this will be a record-setting tourist season, some of us will continue to exercise our option to stay close to home. The summer workforce has no such choice. They will be depending on the rest of us for their safety. Give them a break. Mask up inside.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.