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Written by Dr. Joyce Grissom, HNFS Chief Medical Officer
May was a month of great change. In my professional life, I participated in my first in-office, face-to-face business meeting and I met a colleague for my first business coffee in a public place since late February 2020. I attended an in-person evening event – the 2021 Henry Jackson Foundation Heroes of Medicine dinner – with 35 of us in attendance in an auditorium meant for 500. The event focused, in part, on military and civilian contributors to the fight against COVID-19. It was beautiful and deeply meaningful. In my personal life, my adult children randomly dropped by the house at various times. Although we are all fully vaccinated, they hesitated, reached into their car for their mask and with each I looked at them quizzically and asked, “You are vaccinated, right?” I waved away the mask and happily embraced them warmly with a hug. I invited my daughter in for an impromptu meal and visit – no masks in sight. My son took me out for sushi on Mother’s Day. Professionally and personally, these have all been moments signifying the transition back to life, as we knew it pre-pandemic.
The CDC announced that those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, whether or not they are with others who are vaccinated, based on studies showing the likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 or becoming ill from it are greatly reduced by vaccination. I was interested in what it would be like in my local supermarket after the CDC’s announcement. Interestingly, it looked just like it had the weekend before. I did not see anyone without a mask. I backed off from a double mask to a single mask, moving in the direction of normal without quite reaching it.
We are in a kind of an ‘in-between” sort of limbo. The supply of vaccine now exceeds demand and the rates of vaccination are falling. The new U.S. case rates, hospitalization rates and death rates are all down and continuing to drop. But, we turn on the TV and watch in horror as India runs out of hospital beds, and oxygen, we realize the pandemic is far from over in many parts of the world.
We are waiting. Waiting to see if enough people can be enticed by Krispy Kreme donuts, beer and free french fries to achieve herd immunity. We are waiting to see who is running toward vaccines and who is running from them. One Army unit interviewed three young soldiers who intended not to be vaccinated on a podcast. And then, based on conversations with trusted immediate leaders and professionals, they changed their minds. It is critically important we continue to encourage one another with our stories and hopes for a better tomorrow.
I expect we will be forever changed in some ways. We will remember that in the time of masking and distancing, there was almost no influenza, and maybe there will always be a mask handy in the car glove box. We will keep the Zoom app on our computers for work and for fun and family. I look over the horizon to 4th of July cook-outs and Halloween trick-or-treat and I smile even as I try to figure out where I put the heels I will now have to wear to work. Come what may, variants or new influenza strains, we now have societal “muscle memory” for what we have been through and what it took to get to the other side. We will be much faster and wiser next time.