Woog's World: Don't let your guard down

Last week I wrote about my easy, uplifting experience with the COVID-19 vaccine. As Connecticut rolls out its program to more residents – everyone over 16 becomes eligible April 1 – increasing numbers of friends, neighbors and colleagues are taking what seems like the first big step in a year toward normalcy.

The National Guard, EMTs, check-in persons and monitor-for-15-minutes-to-make-sure-you-don’t-die folks do not hand out “I Got Shot!” stickers, like the “I Voted!” ones we get on Election Day. Yet the feeling after that quick pinprick is even better than the one after filling in those scannable bubbles.
Even just one dose alters people’s moods. We still need a second, sure. But suddenly we think we’ve done something tangible – taken more than hopeful actions, like mask wearing and social distancing – to protect ourselves, and everyone around us.

Several friends described their mood as “euphoric.” One said he feels “invincible.” It’s astonishing that a vaccine can have such an effect.

It’s also dangerous.

After their injection, Westporters are venturing out. Grandparents see – and hug – grandchildren. Restaurants are filling up. One woman sent me a photo of herself in Barnes & Noble. “First time I’ve felt comfortable going out in 12 months!” she texted.

There is a thin line between comfort and cockiness.

Several hours after my first shot, I went to a friend’s birthday party. The timing was fortuitous. This would be my first real “social” event since the pandemic struck. I was pumped.

The party was held in a good-sized space. I looked forward to seeing the guest of honor, his family, and friends I had missed for too long. We had plenty to catch up on. And I had my vaccine-just-a-few-hours-ago tale to tell.

I put on my mask. I walked inside. Of the 50 or so guests, only two wore masks. Both were teenagers. One other group was fully masked: the servers.

I was stunned. A couple of guests were in their 80s. Many had children. Only one or two had had both doses.

The food was excellent. (I had almost forgotten how great a catered affair can be.) The conversation was wonderful. (I had almost forgotten what it is like to talk socially.) The vibe was happy.

But I couldn’t help wondering: What’s going on here? We’re close to the finish line. But we’re not there yet. This is no time to let down our guard. Or, more concretely, let down our masks.

Still, I made a mental calculation: I would stay. I mixed. I mingled. I made conversation, at close quarters, with people who were not wearing masks. I wondered, all the while, what the rest of their lives looked like. I’m sure they wore masks at the supermarket, the post office, the dentist’s office. They probably insisted their kids wear masks too. So why was this situation different? Or was I overreacting? Was this the first step back to normalcy? Was I the one out of step?

We all make decisions like that, all the time. I’m pretty easy with indoor dining. For some reason, I feel comfortable in restaurants. There is plenty of room at Rizzuto’s (and they have outdoor igloos). I’ve been upstairs (fewer people) at Basso. There are (unfortunately) not a lot of folks at Capuli.

Some of my friends are terrified of restaurants. They won’t go inside – or even outside. There’s no good reason why I feel fine sitting across the table from someone as we both eat and chat, unmasked. Except that I trust my dining companion, and the restaurant owners.

However, it will be a very long time before I fly. I know tons of people who have already flown (and there will be many more soon, during the schools’ April break). With their air circulation systems, planes are fine, they tell me. I know, I say (though I twitch at the thought of sitting next to a stranger for hours). It’s the airports that worry me. They agree. But that doesn’t stop them.

There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this. I swim every day at the Y. It’s great for my physical and mental health, and I can’t imagine any better vaccine (besides the real one) than being submerged in chlorine for an hour. Plenty of people though will not come back to the pool yet.

The Y has strict cleaning protocols, including wiping down all surfaces between swim sessions. Yet how much is really necessary? How much simply alleviates worries? Masks are mandatory, except while in the water. Mine slipped once below my nose. As we passed each other – 10 yards apart – a fellow swimmer chastised me. Was he right? Or just hypersensitive?

Who knows?

I do know this: Vaccines have changed the way we all relate to the coronavirus, and the world. I just can’t figure out how.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.