I’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. Statistically, my risk of becoming seriously ill with the disease is very low, even with the Delta variant that has become so pervasive. I also live in a state that has not been very forceful about pandemic restrictions. If you look around, you probably wouldn’t realize we are *still* navigating a pandemic. All this translates to minimal (personal) risk and no real restrictions.
Nonetheless, I wear a mask in most indoor situations.
I’ve been thinking about how I would answer the question of why. The short answer is simply that I think it’s important. If that’s all you want to know, feel free to move along now. If you want the long answer, buckle up and read on.
When my grandmother was 27 years old with three children under age four, she contracted polio. In an instant, her duties as a wife and mother gave way to survival. Friends, family, and neighbors fed her family, cared for her children, and did her chores. She fought like h*ll against being put into an iron lung because she firmly believed she wouldn’t survive the disease if that happened. Nonetheless, she spent several weeks in the hospital while her kids (my mom and two siblings) were shuttled from place to place. My uncle remembers a time when he stood outside the hospital while he watched his mom be rolled out to a fire escape platform in a wheelchair. All she could muster was a weak wave.
Eventually Grandma won her fight, but she wrestled with the lingering effects of the disease for years.
After polio, Grandma gave birth to three more children, served as a US postmaster, ran a farm with my grandpa, and traveled the world. She lived a full life, but she never forgot the fear that polio brought. After she recovered, she still carried that fear for her children.
Until the vaccine.
One of my aunts recalls when my grandma—her mom—took her to get vaccinated against polio. She remembers the vaccination site with tables full of cups that held sugar cubes carrying the oral vaccine. Mostly she remembers that my grandma cried as she experienced the emotional release of knowing her children would not have to suffer the way she had.
I got that vaccine, and so did my kids. They don’t even know what polio is, though. Why? Because there hasn’t been a case of polio that originated in the US since 1979. There has not been a case of polio in this country in their lifetimes. Heck, there hasn’t been one for most of mine.
So what does this have to do with me wearing a mask? As long as we let COVID-19 continue to spread by eschewing the vaccine AND basic precautions like masks, it will continue to mutate and elude our efforts to eradicate it. Mounting evidence shows that even if my vaccinated self doesn’t get sick, I can still carry enough viral load to spread it to others. The more it spreads, the more mutates. The more it mutates, the less effective the existing vaccine becomes. The less effective the vaccine, the more the virus spreads. And the cycle continues.
We will never get rid of COVID-19 the way we did polio and smallpox (yes! I have that telltale vaccination scar) unless we stop spreading it. I want this scourge out of my life, and I’m going to do everything I can NOT to be the person who passes it on.
I’m not living in fear. I’m not even worried that much anymore about getting sick. I want to see this thing disappear and I’m going to do my part. It’s not impossible. My grandma saw it with polio in her lifetime. Nobody is telling me to; it’s just the right thing to do.
Now you know why I wear a mask.