Should Bill and I continue to guard our Covid virginity like medieval maidens? Do we stay in the tower?
I am wracked with cognitive dissonance. One minute, I think, “I am going to die, and take Bill with me!” And then I go, “I should just enjoy my life.”
I am jealous of my friends’ trips and family parties. Oh, those beaming smiles on FaceBook! I disapprove that they are possibly fueling the pandemic. I miss connecting with my family and friends. Is my suffering even necessary? For months, I hesitated to see my stylist to cut my Rapunzel-length hair. This is crazy-making.
For some, the pandemic is over. And why not? There have been five rounds of vaccines. Even if they got Covid, it would be like the flu or a cold, right?
Unless they died. Covid killed over 350,000 people in 2022. That’s equal to the entire population of St. Louis City. Four out of five of those deaths were in my “65 and over” age group.
Unless they got long Covid – one estimate is that 15% of people who get Covid suffer lingering ill effects, including death. (The first time I heard of “long-haul Covid,” I thought that Covid was raging through the trucking community.)
Unless some new variant pops up. Each new infection allows the virus to make billions of copies of itself. You get a variant when there’s not a perfect copy. The current variant sweeping across the country is XBB.1.5, the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet.
I thought it might help to know how Americans behaved at the end of the “Spanish” flu pandemic a hundred years ago. In that spirit, I read Blood and Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder that Hooked America on True Crime. The author is Vanity Fair writer Joe Pompeo. It was published just this fall.
The salient point for me was not the murder of the adulterously involved Reverend Edward Hall and Mrs. Eleanor Mills. Nor was it that their bodies were posed under a crabapple tree. Nor was my interest the tabloid sensation that the murders caused.
I picked this book because the murders happened in September 1922, four years into the flu epidemic. Influenza peaked in waves due to mutations, just as we suffered with Covid’s Delta and Omicron variants. How did people’s behavior change four years after the start of influenza, even though that virus was still causing illness?
And the answer? According to Blood and Ink, “Those who survived were eager to let loose.” Which they did! The flappers, Jazz Age swingers, bootleggers, tabloid press hustlers, and mobs of murder gawkers paid not a whit of attention to the risk of catching influenza.
The consequence of a society ignoring an epidemic was, not surprisingly, thousands of deaths. The government gave up on social-distance restrictions, and the newspapers buried the death reports in the back pages. Not getting sick became a personal responsibility. Sounds familiar.
Was this book useful? Actually, it helped me a lot. It seems we pay lip service to caring about infections, but our behavior reveals that we are creatures of short-term gratification. I imagine we always have been.
In the same way today, no one needs to be ocean-cruising, pub-crawling, or cheering the Blues on with their 15,000 best friends. How about birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations? Needs or wants? And what’s with not bothering to get a booster?
These get-togethers have had consequences. Many holiday events were cancelled because someone caught Covid. My grandson Edin’s Covid infection made them miss Hannukah with their other grandparents. Just this week, attendees at the Golden Globe Awards – Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, among others – have tested Covid positive. They will miss award shows down the road, such as the Critics’ Choice.
I miss impromptu invites to visitors to stay for dinner. I miss sharing rides. I miss eating in restaurants. St. Louis doesn’t have the weather for year-round al fresco dining. In one way, I feel left out, inhospitable, and unreasonable.
At the same time, I really don’t want to share the air in a car with anybody. I don’t want someone’s saliva to inadvertently fly my way while eating and drinking. I don’t want to feel my dancing partner’s breath.
What distresses me the most is that, despite batting the words around, few are “following the science.” Science would call for being fully vaccinated and boosted. Science would call for having large gatherings outdoors. Science would call for masking indoors.
Most importantly, following the science means acting according to the fluctuating Covid statistics. I have tried to do that.
I relaxed my isolation right after I got the initial vaccines. I visited our son Greg in Madison, Wisconsin. Then, Delta struck, and I locked down again. When Delta subsided, I drove to Charlottesville to visit son Alex and family. Then, the Omicron tsunami of the 2021-2022 winter landed. When infections hit one million new cases on January 18, 2022, I became a hermit again.
Is anyone else looking at the CDC stats? The post-holiday Covid infection and death rate bump is for real.
What worries me is the non-scientific approach many have taken to gauge their behavior:
I didn’t get sick flying, so flying has to be ok.
I didn’t get sick from that concert, so concerts are okay.
I’ve eaten in that diner, so dining indoors must be ok.
I didn’t get sick going to this or that gathering, so it must be okay.
This is not Science! This is being lucky.
I understand the dilemma. Even for me, if the infection/hospitalization/death rate goes up, do I give up my weekly, scheduled tennis game? It’s really hard to put the mask back on after taking a sip or bite. It’s the Covid equivalent of “mission creep.” We give ourselves permission to do more and more, regardless of changing circumstances.
Currently, I dance only with Bill, go to the Symphony and opera, buy groceries, vote, attend funerals and walk into the golf clubhouse – with my mask on. Bill and I continue striving to keep our Covid virginity!
Reading Blood and Ink, I learned that people a century ago didn’t “ease out” of the influenza pandemic. They ran full tilt in pursuit of their desires.
As with all my friends who are catching up on three years of Carnival cruises.
Tell me: What Covid precautions are you taking at this point?
12 replies on “Covid Virgins”
Sorry about your WordPress hassles. I sometimes wonder why one keeps having to prove who one is. Well, I am jealous of people whose precaution behavior has decreased.
I wrote a response but then had password hassles with WordPress and lost what I said. In brief, my precaution behavior has greatly decreased.
Fingers crossed! Great to hear from you,Sandy.
My husband and I are living much like you. Very limited indoor contact with masks, opera yes, I remembered to let him play in his monthly team bridge matches, masked, social events outside with those I love. There are a few restaurants that out in OR level HEPA filtration where we eat inside once or twice a month (mental health request from my husband.) We caught the flu despite flu shot (I would have thought I only had a cold, but my husband got a secondary bacterial infection and our internist have us flu shots and tamiflu-with quick resolution of symptoms. So far-no Covid.
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I don’t want to be the one to get Bill sick. Bet you feel that way re Jerry. Good for you to hang in there!!!
We are boosted to the max and still mask indoors at public places. We don’t go to indoors restaurants and do takeout instead. I don’t mask at the barn because it’s outdoors. And I can’t mask on the dental chair, but the dentist and her assistants mask and I mask before and after. I mostly miss traveling, but we may do some travel trailering when it warms up. I know others have given up masking, but I am a fairly healthy 72 year old and don’t want to change that; not ready to die and don’t want long Covid. I realize I may get Covid in spite of my precautions as it mutates into ever more contagious strains, but I’m hoping it will also mutate into less serious forms. The newest one does not seem to affect your smell and taste, for example. (Given how our vision and hearing decline with age, I don’t want to lose smell and taste). So we will continue to take our precautions. It’s not such a sacrifice that we’re willing to risk the alternative.
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That’s a bummer!
I had it. I figured I am immune for four months. Now I put the mask back on and find almost instant skin reaction to masks, regular or N95: red, itchy, swollen.
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You go, Bickyjean!
Still striving to protect my Covid virginity. Bivalent boosted; mask on indoors; restaurants only during off hours.
P.S. I love hearing that folks 100 years ago were just as motivated by short-term gratification as we are today.
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Thanks for sharing your saga. Sorry you missed out on connecting with Cleo and grandkids as you had planned. And I hope you make a complete recovery, including your voice.
And thanks for working on the elections.
It’s soooo hard to know what to do. I am partly motivated by “pre” guilt. If I give Covid to Bill – ‘cause I’m the social one – I fear he’d get sick like you while my own case would be mild.
Our next election goal is to vote our Josh Hawley.
My wife and I considered ourselves to be the Last People Standing in 2022. We were both vaccinated and boosted, and never got it. When the covalent vaccine arrived, I was first in line, but Sarah put it off, for what she now admits was a dumb reason—she was so involved in the fall elections she didn’t want to be out of commission even one day for vaccine side effects. She wore a mask everywhere she went, but I didn’t. We went back to restaurants occasionally, if they were sparse and airy or we could sit outside. I shopped at stores when they were least crowded.
I worked as an election judge this year, and came down with pneumonia a week before November 8. I tested negative for COVID, but the X-rays showed bacterial infections in both lungs. I took antibiotics and steroids and made it through the election alive. I lost my voice and have never quite got it back, even today.
Sarah tested positive for COVID just after Thanksgiving. It never got worse than a mild cold. She took Paxlovid, and bounced back pretty fast. We were really looking forward to Christmas, because, as grandparents, it was our year to see them Christmas day. Also, our dear German daughter Cleo, our exchange student from 2016-17, was coming to visit for a few days after attending college in Mexico. We haven’t seen her in three years.
One day before Cleo arrived, I came back from Christmas shopping feeling light headed and with a scratchy throat. I took a home COVID test just to reassure myself, but it showed a strong positive within two minutes. I felt heartbroken and cheated.
Cleo arrived, but I had to isolate from her, speaking through a mask from twenty feet away. Christmas morning with the grandkids was cancelled. Worse, I had a very bad reaction to the Paxlovid. By the second day, I couldn’t even hold down water and had to quit on the medication. I was flat on my back three days. My daughter brought me a plate of Christmas dinner, but I was able to eat only a few bites. I never lost my senses of taste or smell, but my appetite vanished. It came back gradually over a couple of weeks.
A month later, I’m a bit humbler. Back to where I was before, avoiding groups of more than a few people, wearing a mask at the hardware store. At the moment, I’m probably as immune to this thing as I ever will be. If anything, I have more of a “get out and live life” attitude. I assume that new variants will just be a seasonal fact of life.
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