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Don Rogers: As the masks come off

I walked in Briar Patch the other day, amazed.

It wasn’t all that long ago the checker at the door wouldn’t let an unmasked woman inside.

“But I have a medical condition,” she declared. “I can’t wear a mask.”

Uh, huh. She wasn’t getting in. Not that day, around the height of all this locally. Try Raley’s. There was always one or two, usually men, who strutted in, daring someone to contest them, by the look of it.

I never saw these what — rebels? — at SPD or Safeway, where donning a mask for shopping just wasn’t a deal. Believe they help or not, acting as a community was the higher value. The social bond is decency.

There’s an adage about how a society treats its most vulnerable being a reliable test of value. We passed. At least in my view.

You might roll your eyes a little. But we weathered the vocal minority, the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, deniers of you name it, including of the disease itself. They had their say. They also were inevitable, and not always entirely wrong in their observations.

The global evidence so far is mixed for lockdowns, shows modest protection from masks, gets a lot stronger for the rather obvious benefits of social distancing and frequent hand-washing, and is surprisingly solid for the vaccines approved in the United States. A potential silver lining from this pandemic would be the development of similar vaccines against, say, cancers. Some feared penicillin, I’m sure.

The best medicines to treat COVID-19 and variants to come are farther behind, but I’m sure they’ll come. The federal government last week announced a $3.2 billion investment into research that could lead to anti-viral pills for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Among the alternative “miracle drugs,” the one I hear the most about around here is ivermectin, approved for treating parasites. Curiously, though, it’s uniformly presented by enthusiasts, who should know better, in a snake oil sort of way even as proper studies are getting underway.

The Federal Drug Administration currently warns against its use, and the National Health Institutes has trials going but says there isn’t enough evidence yet for or against the drug. Ivermectin and a host of other medicines will prove or disprove themselves in time. That’s the reality.

Meanwhile, back at Briar Patch, a good half of the shoppers and workers were mask-less as of last weekend. This might be the surest sign for me this thing is about over.

The numbers continue to run way down in our county, as elsewhere. It’s reasonable to think that the total number of diagnosed cases since this began will top out around 5,000, with 75 deaths — 55 of them people over 80, and only 1 under the age of 60. Five people are hospitalized and there are 51 active cases today, as I write.


The reason shoppers and employees at Briar Patch and the rest of the grocers are going mask-less is the state lifted the mask mandate last week, unless you are unvaccinated.

So those still wearing masks will be the honest unvaccinated and those who still feel vulnerable and believe in the protective qualities of a mask.

For now in our main office in Grass Valley, we’re still wearing masks when not at our desks. Nearly everyone is vaccinated, which is different than every one. We can lift the mask mandate safely, but this would expose unvaccinated staffers, right?

By the way, HIPAA privacy law does not apply. We can legally ask and confirm proof of vaccination for entry. Which puts this whole thing into the realm of ethics rather than legality. That is, what’s the right thing to do between privacy and health safety?

So we’ve arrived at that brave new world some have dreaded.

The durability of vaccination and immunity from having had the disease remain questions, as well as the possibility of reinfection, slight though it may be.

I expect bumpiness remains even as the scolders back off, traveling picks up, and we rub elbows more literally at public events this summer and beyond.

The impromptu proms and such carried on through late spring without discernible outbreaks, a promising sign. And good for the kids, who indeed did bear the brunt of the restrictions and harm outside of the disease itself, whatever you may think of the case for closing the schools as long as we did.

This is to say, there are plenty of lessons yet to be gleaned from this pandemic, neither liberal nor conservative partisans have had a particularly firm grasp of the science or data, and it’s not over yet.

I worry as the virus continues to evolve, leaving a window open to a variant that does target the young.

As I watch my little grandsons visiting for a couple of weeks, I’ll confess that concern overrides squeamishness among the unvaccinated who believe that’s some secret worth keeping.

Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 530-477-4299


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