Some recent experiences of mine, though of course by definition anecdotal and therefore inconclusive, have still been mixed enough to indicate that President Biden is right about his plan for the July 4th holiday. His idea of using Independence Day “to mark the country’s effective return to normalcy after 16 months of coronavirus pandemic disruption” may be just what many Americans still need to shed the “masks for all” and “stay at home” mentalities despite major signals from political and public health authorities’ at all levels of government that such hypercaution is no longer necessary.
In fact, these experiences have not only been mixed. A couple have been downright puzzling.
For instance, as I’ve written previously, my town in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. is pretty darned woke. It’s granted the right to vote in local elections to all illegal aliens 16 years of age and older who can show they’ve just briefly resided in Riverdale Park. And when it comes to the virus, many residents seem to have been caught up in pandemic virtue-signaling and scolding. In addition, our county – Prince George’s – has been lifting virus-related restrictions much more slowly than the rest of the state. (In fairness, it’s infection and hospitalization rates have consistently been on the high side.)
But on one of my (quasi-) daily strolls through the town, during the same conversation, a thirty-something neighbor both proclaimed himself “one of the wokest people you’ll ever meet” and declared that “this [virus] thing is over!” And for the first time since I began noticing him sitting on his porch and met him a few months ago, we shook hands.
In addition, at the local farmer’s market where last summer I was scolded for lowering my mask to sniff some fruit for ripeness (see the above-linked September 26, 2020 RealityChek post) two weeks ago, no one scolded me for paying a visit maskless even though face coverings were still being worn a this outdoor venue (including by folks who almost certainly, like me, are fully vaccinated). And no one scolded me this time for sniffing some fruit.
Best of all, about a week ago, I was able to shop maskless at my mainstay grocery store. What a thrill to be able to spend my normal hour-and-a-half going through the aisles without a piece of cloth smothering my bearded visage and getting sucked halfway into my mouth with each inhalation!
At the same time, on my previous trip to this store, masks seemed to still be required – even though the county’s indoor mask mandate had been lifted, even though the company’s website specified that its stores in this county would no longer require masks, and even though the floor markers in the aisles aimed at aiding social distancing had been removed for about a month. (They remained for the checkout lines.)
Normality signals were even more oddly mixed on a recent trip to a favorite beach destination: Chincoteague, Virgina. Since the town relies heavily on vacationers, and presumably had been hard-hit by travel curbs and lockdowns, I expected that it hoped for virus-related curbs to be lifted sooner rather than later. Moreover, without having researched its politics, I surmised that it’s on the whole a risk-tolerance and decidedly conservative place – both because it’s still small and seemingly tradition-minded (though apparently by no means averse to the noteworthy development that’s taken place during the three decades that I’ve been visiting), and because more than a few residents still earn their living at hard-scrabble actitivies like fishing, or are descended from those who did. Indeed, on the three-hour drive there from Prince George’s, through other pretty similar towns and farmland, a handful of Trump-Pence signs could still be seen – but no Biden-Harris placards.
Yet I was still pretty taken aback by how crowded the area was for an early June mid-week stretch of days, and even more surprised to learn that Chincoteague had been hopping since March. As I was told by several wait staff and merchants, “People really want to get back to their lives.” Which made perfect sense to me upon remembering that Chincoteague tends to attract a much more middle-class and (for lack of a better term) middle-brow crowd than nearby beach towns that tend to be either college student or yuppie meccas.
Even so, one of three of the four restaurants we patronized (and always patronize) in town and along the way required masks in the waiting area and any time customers left their tables. All the staff wore face coverings, too. In our other three favorites, neither customers nor staff were wearing masks at any time. One of the town’s book stores mentioned on its website (but not on the premises) that masks are mandatory, but when I entered mask-less and offered to show the co-owner behind the counter my vaccination card, she laughed and said not to bother. This relaxed attitude, however, wasn’t evident on its upper level, which I’ve always liked because of the easy chairs that enable you to thumb through your prospective purchases while taking a load off. The easy chairs were marked off-limits till the pandemic passed – whenever that’s supposed to be.
Further, the much smaller, much more ramshackle book shop about halfway to (or from) Chincoteague greeted customers with a big “Masks Required” sign on the front door. I had my vaccination card with me then, too, but didn’t want to make a scene – partly because it’s a much more close-quarters place than its Chincoteague counterpart. So I endured the mask inhalation thing while squeezing through and contorting myself around the incredibly cramped (but incredibly well stocked) paperback science fiction section in search of gems for a buck.
So I’ll be rooting for the President to be in top form if he does indeed declare July 4th to be Independence from the Virus Day. And due to his own hypercaution for so long, he could well be a highly credible carrier of the message that it’s finally time for all Americans who don’t need to take special precautions to understand that it’s really over.