Leaving COVID Wonderland

On the Saturday before Labor Day weekend, my son’s football team played its first game in almost two years.  An omnipresent feeling of gratitude could be felt in the air of my little adopted Northern California burg.  The sun was shining, Old Glory was flying, fans were laughing and cheering, and our boys were playing football.  Save the occasional mask, you wouldn’t know there was anything different about this year than any other.

Then, at the end of the game, something silly happened that dragged us all back into COVID Wonderland.  Rather than having the boys line up and shake hands at the end of the game, as usual, both teams lined up on their respective hash marks facing the other and waved from a distance.

I couldn’t believe it, and as I gathered from the loud chuckles among spectators, neither could they.  I looked at a fellow coach, whom I suspect is far to my left politically, and whispered, “Can you believe this?”  He just smiled, shook his head, and said, “Nope.” 

After all, we had met all the other team’s coaches earlier.  No masks, but there were plenty of handshakes and conversation without adhering to the entirely made-up standard for social distancing that everyone came to know in 2020.  No one in the crowd was distancing from one another, either, and the boys had just been all over each other without anyone having the slightest concern.  But somehow, the players and coaches shaking hands at the end of the game was just too dangerous?

That stupid visual of us waving at the other team was, like so many other things we’ve become accustomed to, just theater to keep us immersed in the fantasy that COVID lurks everywhere, and will mercilessly strike if you live a normal life. 

In reality, if you are at any significant risk of COVID, there are plenty of vaccines available.  And if the vaccines work, those people should feel comfortable enjoying their lives while appreciating a reduced risk of harm from the virus.  For me and my kids, and for most of us at that game, COVID is a nonfactor in our day-to-day lives, despite these constant and often silly reminders that we are supposed to be fearful.

On Labor Day weekend, however, I left my California enclave for the free state of Florida, which included an afternoon of boating at Destin’s Crab Island that could have been mistaken for a Trump rally (and I later found that we were there just a day before an actual Trump rally).  But the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly our visit to Tallahassee where we watched the Florida State Seminoles as they hosted the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

It was a great game that will likely be remembered as one of the best of the season, but to be honest, what was most gratifying was the normalcy of everything.  We tailgated, we watched the fans chant the traditional “chop,” there was abundant reverence for our military servicemen and our Flag, an awesome tribute to the late and legendary Bobby Bowden, and, of course, 70,000-plus Americans in a bowl enjoying the game and each other without any concern that the person sitting next to them was a vector for a deadly disease. 

Even there, a few masks could be seen, which occasionally lulled me back toward COVID Wonderland -- but only briefly.  The fantasy that COVID lurked around every corner and in the very air we breathed, and the thought that innumerable gaggles of my countrymen are living in irrational fear of it, couldn’t last in this place, because a moment later the crowd would react to a big play, jarring my senses and reminding me that I was firmly planted in the real world where we can freely live our lives without calculating such incomprehensibly small levels of risks. 

Then came time to go to the airport, and descend once more into COVID Wonderland, which, when so closely juxtaposed with the place I was leaving, proved to be even more maddening and sillier than it once was. 

Perhaps you’ve also been there, where we don our loosely fitting paper masks that haven’t been worn in days (despite our having interacted personally with hundreds of strangers without it) because, suddenly, COVID lingers on every droplet of moisture in the air and is deadlier than ever.

The intercom blares a stern warning to “socially distance” to keep one another safe, but then the airline employees and TSA prod us into tight-fitting corrals to check our bags and be inspected by government overseers. 

The masks disappear completely at the eateries and drinkeries in the airport, but once on the plane, we’re reminded that we have to replace the masks in between sips and bites.  Somehow, COVID becomes more prevalent and dangerous in the routinely disinfected airplane (with air filtration systems that reportedly remove 99-percent of viruses and pathogens from the air) than it was in the disgusting airport we had just left.

Then, we land.  We stop at a store on the way back to pick up some items but realize that this particular grocery store is on the “masking” side of the county line, and though you can throw a stone to the other side where no masks would be required, we’re entreated to take part in the show by wearing a mask as we enter. 

“Will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?” sings the Mock Turtle.

Once home, it’s time to get back to work.  We’re told on a conference call virtual meeting just how seriously we need to take the COVID threat by socially distancing and wearing masks because cases are jumping and hospitals are overwhelmed nationwide.  We have to take it so seriously, in fact, that it was decided (and, for me, the notification provided just hours before Biden’s proclamation about a forthcoming vaccine mandate) that we need to be fully vaccinated to enter any company office in order to protect others, even though vaccination by no means prevents infection or spread of the virus -- and we all know it. 

Curiouser and curiouser.

For now, of course, we are told that vaccination is a “personal choice,” but that we should provide a “confidential” update of vaccination status (and upload proof that you are vaccinated, if you claim to be) to the human resources department, which discloses that this “confidential” information regarding one’s “personal choice” may be freely shared with key company personnel and the federal government.  All of this fuels an eerie premonition, of course, that the government and the company will soon require that the “personal choice” they demand of you is made as a condition of future employment.  

“Confidential” means not private at all, evidently, and “personal choice” is being punished for not doing what someone else wants.  Because here in COVID Wonderland, nothing is what it is, and everything is what it isn’t.

If all of this isn’t madness enough, the governor of California has announced that he is demanding all schoolchildren be injected with a hastily crafted, novel vaccine that carries countless unknown risks to offset the virtually nonexistent threat of COVID upon healthy children. 

There are signs that America is increasingly doubting the illusions that children are at serious risk of harm from the virus.  Even the New York Times admits that a child is at a much lower risk of harm from COVID than a fully-vaccinated 70-year-old (but even that is minimizing the distinction regarding how relatively safe children are).  

Irrespective, like many people, jabbing my kids to introduce unknown risks to their health in order to stave off a virtually nonexistent one simply will not happen under any circumstances.

Up to now, I’ve been content enjoying my little reprieves from the COVID madness in my adopted state, like those aforementioned football games.  But if Gavin Newsom succeeds in making this irrational fear, these theatrical inanities, and medical tyranny permanent features of life in California, you can count us out.  As happy as we may have been here these past years, life’s too short to spend any more time in COVID Wonderland than we already have. 

And, based on the conversations I’ve been having with several others in my community, we certainly won’t be alone.

Photo credit: Jill Siegrist (cropped) CC BY-SA-NC 4.0 license

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