Last week the pandemic ended in Vermont. At midnight on Tuesday, June 15, all state-level restrictions on gatherings, masks, and travel ceased. This was the long-awaited reward for the state reaching an 80-percent vaccination rate for residents ages 12 and up.
I won’t lie—it feels amazing. It also feels very, very weird. We’re navigating yet another new set of social circumstances and realities, and it’s kind of awkward.
After wearing masks for so long it’s strange to just waltz into a business with a naked face. At this point about half of the other shoppers in the grocery store are masked at any given time, a little higher for employees—though some places are still asking all customers to mask as a precaution.
The big question I’ve been grappling with is what message am I sending by my personal choice? If I wear a mask, am I implying that I’m unvaccinated? Is a bare face a vote of confidence in science and our collective efforts to end the pandemic? Or does it feel, to people who work in these businesses, like I don’t care about their personal safety?
Similar questions come up in social settings, especially where there are young children who cannot yet be vaccinated in the mix. My policy throughout the past year-and-a-half has been to follow the lead of the most cautious person in the group, to respect their boundaries. But after a long, lonely winter of very little social contact and following very stringent rules, letting go of the constant Covid vigilance feels not just sensible, but hopeful and restorative to me.
It’s a bit of a personality test—some folks feel safer with clear, strict rules to follow. I tend to thrive in situations that call for more flexibility. That said, it’s been helpful to live in place with very clear rules and expectations during a period of intense cognitive overload. Which is why I’ve decided to ditch the mask, unless specifically asked to wear one, in which case I will gladly do so.
If I’m honest, I haven’t really been worried about getting Covid since I got my first shot two months ago. And I’ve never really been stressed about my kids getting it, which is based in science, not just my laissez faire brand of parenting. At the same time I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into being respectful of more conservative boundaries.
This weekend, after hosting a birthday party for my nephew, which stretched from afternoon into evening, as friends dropped by to introduce me to a friend of theirs who was in town, and to meet my sister who has been visiting, I felt deeply at home in myself for the first time in forever. I need that messy, delightful social life. I need to stop and chat with neighbors, and see their faces. I don’t just want to, I need to let down my guard and feel open to the world again.
I realize this is all very much from a place of privilege—of not having lost anyone close to me this year, of living in a place that is community-minded and well run. Without forgetting how terrible this has all been, I’m also embracing this new phase in the way that makes me happiest: I’m going to host a Fourth of July party with too much ice cream, all the sparklers, and kids splashing in a giant inflatable kiddie pool. I’m going to invite the new neighbors I’ve only spoken to once. I’m going to mix up my friend groups and see what happens. It’s time to return to the land of the living, at least here in Vermont. Hope to see the rest of you here soon.