By Cal Orey
As I predicted, June would be the month we'd experience a sense of normalcy since lockdown in my Northern California tourist town, in America, and around the world. So, how does it feel? Well, it’s kind of is liberating, sort of. After all, we’ve been cooped up inside our homes like birds in a cage. We wanted to go outdoors and enjoy the fruits of freedom like we had before the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the protests for re-opening -- perhaps too soon – adds fuel to the hope, hype and hysteria fire. Worse, during the pandemic, the loss of George Floyd gained even more protests and riots (against another pandemic of racism and police brutality). Despite the danger of mass gatherings and tear gas (which causes coughing to spread the virus) people march. In San Francisco to New York City, Seattle and Atlanta and dozens more cities, even around the world people (some wear masks, others do not) gather in crowds to fight for civil rights amid a contagious virus that is still spreading around the world. And medical experts are concerned.
Politicians and epidemiologists are worried about a new spike. But health workers were worried about new spikes during “lockdown fatigue” (due to loss of jobs and freedom) protests. So, the questions remain: Is there hope the virus will fizzle -- and the hype and hysteria fade like in the ‘80s during the HIV/AIDS epidemic? Or will a second wave of the deadly virus revisit like in 1918 during the fall-winter?
Every day we hear news about therapeutics and a vaccine by the end of the year. And now, with relaxed restrictions paired with people who fought for going back to work, getting a haircut to a beer – we’re seeing hope of saving our economy. However, there are more spikes in virus outbreaks. Still, people are divided on believing the virus is big and bad. Others say we’re in between a rock and a hard place – we choose between making money or taking chances with our health? So, life goes on and we hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Since the pandemic began in my town, I've noticed two groups: The Cautious Cats, or the CCs and Freedom Fighters, or the FFs who are the folks who say the virus is just a cold. Locals and tourists want to pack the casinos, hotels, vacation home rentals, restaurants and beaches. But the CCs know our hospital has a mere 60 beds and being a tourism hub, we could get overwhelmed like we watched on TV – New York City, the epicenter of people dying. We hope it won’t be like that here.
As the sibling, dog, and I drive around town it is different. The Lake is quiet and campgrounds are empty. The grocery stores are filled with people--half with masks, half without. There is controversy about the good of wearing a mask. I feel better wearing one. I do it like wearing a protective condom. And I hope the cotton cloth helps me stay well or if I am a carrier, I hope it keeps me from infecting someone.
The locals have a different vibe. Half the folks still believe there is no virus and refuse to wear masks. The other half know we are like a petri dish – and hope we don’t get sick. Our hospital, food, and supplies will not be able to take care of our own – and interlopers. We hope we stay at zero deaths. But many locals are hungry and fed up. We want to go back to pre-pandemic days – a time of no fear of people and a contagion. Both locals and tourists complain about shut down businesses, lost a job or endure a pay cut and wonder if a Great Depression is in the works. Is it hope or hype since the news is inconsistent and trust is shaky?
Life during the new normal is abnormal. Skyler, my beloved Aussie got his nails clipped. The protocol is to drop off the dog to a vet tech at the car. No pet owners are allowed inside the office. The techs wear masks and gloves…
Next, I kept my dental cleaning appointment. It was a very sterile experience. At the dental office I announced my arrival via phone in the car. I used a paper towel to open the door. Walking into the vacant waiting room I was wearing a mandatory mask. Then, my temperature was taken. I was asked if I had been sick, in contact with anyone sick or if I had traveled. After rinsing twice with peroxide, I sat down in the dental chair. Everything was wrapped in plastic. The hygienist wore a face shield and gloves. No hazmat suit, just scrubs. I removed my mask and the procedure began. And it was done.
Can I get my roots done yet? The pricey light brown hair powder I bought online hides the grays. Three months without a hair appointment, I called a salon and was greeted with price gouging. Uh, more than 300.00 for a root touch up and a few highlights? And yes, both stylists and clients wear masks – and temperatures will be taken.
The media has kept us abreast of the different re-opening phases. Once Nevada opened their golf courses and restaurants, my brother raced across the state line for a taste of normalcy. The next day, I soon learned he golfed with a buddy. No separate cars and no masks at the burger café. So, due to an abundance of caution I put us on the new anti-virus plan: masks, gloves and social distancing for 14 days. Repeat as necessary. It is self-preservation because I do not want to get sick.
I'm not ready for pools or indoor dining. The word is, most of the country is still too skittish to hit crowded bars, restaurants, theaters or gyms in June. It doesn’t matter if state and local officials are giving us the green light.
Each time I go to the Delta airline website to book a fall flight to Alaska, the prices are either low or sky high. Virus cases in Anchorage (now the busiest airport in the world) and Fairbanks are spiking. Will it be safe? I have flight miles saved up and want that human connectedness and adventure I get when traveling out of my comfort zone. FFs say, "Go!" but CCs say, "It’s not safe.” Some airlines are packing in people on those 737s -- and to full capacity. Worse, I discovered if I go to Alaska tomorrow a 14 day quarantine is mandatory. So, that would be almost 1000 for the dog kenneling and more than 3000 lodging -- and no northern lights this time of year. All alone in a room in Fairbanks. Not in the stars.
During the fear of COVID-19 spreading and finding a cure, will there be an “I Am Legend” vaccine backlash turning people into zombies? The unknown is haunting virology and vaccine experts about releasing the miracle shot too soon. Scientists caution there is no wiggle room for mistakes. Vaccines take time to make to lower the risk of side effects that can be more deadly than the disease. But there are those people who will wait in line for the shot -- and the anti-vaxers (like me) who will use social distancing, bolster the immune system, naturally, with vitamin D, C, and zinc as well as a nutrient-dense diet, healthful lifestyle and a bit of luck. And then everyone will hope for the best during hype and hysteria.
The final word: The world is still living and dying in a pandemic – and new hot spots are popping up every day – Brazil and Latin America are the hottest ones and there are spikes in the South and West due to the protests. But we can learn to live with the novel virus – with the promise of therapeutics and a healthy lifestyle -- as we have done with HIV/AIDS. And, of course, another superbug will pay us a visit. Hopefully, humanity will blossom and we will work together to fight the enemy – with or without a vaccine. Meanwhile, I am preparing for Lockdown II -- 80 percent odds we will see it in California this year.
-- Cal Orey, M.A. Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, Tea, Superfoods, Essential Oils, Herbs and Spices) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is http://www.calorey.com.