LOS ANGELES – The Uber driver who took me to the restaurants was totally protected.
He was masked, and had placed a plastic divider between him and the back seat. Before getting into the car, the app had asked if I had a mask. A “no” would have left me on the street. With so many precautions, it would have been difficult for him or I to infect the other with Covid. But even so, neither of us knew the most important fact: I did not know whether he was vaccinated and he did not know whether I was. We both ran the risk, and that’s how I went to dinner.
At the restaurant, everyone preparing the sushi and sashimi was Japanese, and the rest of the staff, with very few exceptions, were Latinos. Of course, the language there was japoñol. The unspoken rule, perfectly defined by the late chef Anthony Bourdain, is that no restaurant can survive without immigrants. Everyone wore a mask. And they ran the risk, because they could not know whether the clients were vaccinated.
That was a different experience from my visit a month ago to San Francisco, where every restaurant asked to see my vaccination card before I was allowed inside. And even more different from Miami, where I live. It seems there’s no pandemic there. At a dinner with my son in an Italian restaurant, no one – not even the waiters – wore masks. Asking for salt or pepper was an unnecessary viral risk. Better tasteless and thirsty than infected. The same happened at a trendy pizzeria on Miami Beach. Spanish friends with me could not believe what they were seeing. A restaurant without a single mask was very 2019.
Confusion is the rule.
In the United States there are schools that no longer require students to wear masks, not even in schoolrooms. And others where it is required, even for outdoor activities and sports.
Understandably, people are tired of living locked in, afraid, masked, with multiple restrictions and without a real plan for putting an end to this tragedy. Canadian truckers, for example, have been protesting for days against the requirement they get vaccinated before they can cross the Canada-US border. Antivaxx groups around many parts of the world are supporting them digitally. And disinformation campaigns are exploding on social networks.
But the pandemic is still killing us, and there’s no alternative but to keep up public health measures like vaccinations, masks and social distancing. Not doing that would be like letting go of a child’s hand when crossing a busy highway. Yes, the principal obligation of any government is to keep its citizens alive. Even if they complain. Everything else comes later.
At some point, hopefully this year, we will reach a “balance,” as Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told the Financial Times. “I hope we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection that the Covid restriction will be a thing of the past.” It’s true that the number of Omicron cases is dropping in many countries, and we have to adapt to the changes. But the “balance” mentioned by the presidential adviser is not yet here. And cross your fingers against the appearance of another lethal variant.
I write this on a day when more than 2,500 people died from Covid in the United States and about 220,000 tested positive. And that’s not counting the cases confirmed only because of home tests. In other words, we’re very far from the end of the pandemic. At the world level, we went from 300 million cases to 400 million cases in just one month. When Covid becomes endemic, it will not mean we will be free of it. It means it will be a constant concern. Perhaps less lethal, but as permanent as colds, the flu and allergies.
In the meantime, we are all depending on the people who are most skeptical and doubtful. If the millions who refuse to be vaccinated would do it, the levels of cases, hospitalizations and deaths would drop further. That’s no lie. It is a matter of public health, of benefit to the majority. The Center for Disease Control says so, and I know it from personal experience. I got Covid in late December, but my three Moderna shots kept me from a grave infection that could have put me in a hospital or worse. Covid kills.
It would be good if the lies circulating on the Internet were true. But I have lost count of the reports I have read on the news program about someone who refused the vaccine and died from Covid. And it hurts me even more when people believe a charlatan, someone who lacks any sort of academic preparation or an ignorant politician just looking for votes and power. Sadder than death is death because of a lie.
There is, I know, a fight between those who are vaccinated and those who are not. For those who are vaccinated, it is difficult to understand someone who does not want to protect himself or his family. For those who are not vaccinated, in the best of cases it is a matter of principle. But the two views do not carry equal weight. Science is on the side of the vaccinated. Life is on the side of the vaccinated. The evidence is on the side of the vaccinated.
The irony, and what is sad, is that the end of the pandemic depends on those who least believe that it exists, and those it kills the most.