COVID Confidential: #13 – New Endings & Old Beginnings

Well, it’s now been almost two months since the Oregon mask mandate has been put to rest…again. 

In July 2021, we here in Oregon enjoyed a brief two-week stint of mask-free living before we were begrudgingly whiplashed back into Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compliance. This time will it be any different? It really does feels like we’re heading in the right direction when it comes to putting these past two years behind us. Maybe I am being too optimistic thinking that this really is the end of the pandemic? Now that this microscopic jinn is out of the bottle, how can we minimize future collateral damage and build a better future? Honestly, I’m being hopeful. Yes, I know there are sub-variants looming, but for now, infection levels and death rates are dropping faster than my short-lived acting career. 

After two years, I feel grateful I’m still here and fortunate that Eric, my family and friends are as well. The time wasn’t without its casualties. There were a couple of peripheral friends Eric and I would see at community fundraisers that died from Covid-19 virus. One guy was a veteran and athlete, the other was a pharmacy owner who supported several LGBTQ+ charities. This was the first time we personally knew someone who died from the virus. Even our besties became victims early on during the pandemic. Their symptoms were mild and luckily no one was hospitalized. All of this occurred, just after vaccines became widely available. Luckily neither Eric or I had been in contact with our besties during the time of the infection so we were safe. 

Eric and I didn’t allow the virus to hold us hostage, but did avoid close contact with anyone outside our bubble. We were grateful to still be employed and forged ahead with life with all the safety protocols in place. 

I am currently taking part in an amazing leadership program called the American Leadership Forum. The Oregon chapter travels monthly across the state to understand the challenges of that community and learn from area leaders. The program is designed to seed new leaders throughout the state. Last year’s classes (37 & 38) were all coordinated and facilitated virtually. I’m part of class 40, or as we say “XL”, complete with hand gestures to form an X and an L. Anyway, we are required to take a rapid antigen test before we can come together. This protects us and the communities we visit. When case numbers spiked in several cities in our state where we had planned to visit, we had to adapt and convene virtually. I will say, and a few folks will agree, there’s nothing worse than being in a Zoom environment for 8 hours (glazed eyes emoji).

My employer previously planned a partial return to the office earlier this year but was halted by the fast spreading Omicron variant. This was a huge sigh of relief for some people. Many of whom have been working remotely and hadn’t stepped foot in the office in almost two years. We’re now back on course to try again with a plan to reevaluate things again later in the summer. The return to the office doesn’t really phase me. There are already a handful of staff in my department that have been coming into the office on a regular basis so this “re-entry” isn’t a significant change for us. I actually welcome the plan and look forward to seeing full faces and bodies in person, rather than an image or virtual presence on the screen. I was hired during the pandemic and the majority of people I know in my office, I only know virtually. I do have concerns of the once quiet corridors I’ve grown accustomed to, becoming echo chambers of many mini-reunions. Workspace noises (i.e. loud conversations more suited for open environments or conference rooms) will be the biggest challenge. If it’s too much, I’ll politely ask someone to adjust their volume or I will counter the offense with a pair of headphones to level out the noise. Granted these are temporary situations. I unfortunately have sound sensitivity issues and even wear earplugs to fall asleep. It will be an adjustment for everyone. I want to see and feel the energy of bustling cafes and shops buzzing with activity again. Right now, downtown Portland looks like a fragile, fractured, and hollow egg. It looks fine at a distance until you get a closer look and see the vacant storefronts and other signs of urban decay.

We have forever been changed by these catastrophic past few years. Now, I feel like developed habits more closely associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Streaming newly released movies from our livingroom was never part of our regular activities. Nor was the idea of takeout. Eric and I would rather dine in at our favorite eatery creating a date night or simply reward ourselves from cooking and dine away from home. These aren’t complaints in any way. We were fortunate to have the ability to do these things while helping businesses. 

As we can roam again unmasked, I have grown more cautious of folks in confined spaces. I think to myself, “Has this person been vaccinated?!” Or, asking myself if I should still be wearing my mask? This isn’t a negative judgment for those who continue this hygienic trend. I still mask while riding our light-rail, MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) which has become a bit of a rolling petri dish, but I will save those details for another time. My extroverted self is really struggling to see the light again. Now that there are again weekend events on the social calendars, I still can’t yet reduce my anxiety enough to build up enough excitement to attend; something that previously wouldn’t take any effort. I did manage to attend a colleague’s going away celebration and meet a friend for drinks at a bar (outside seating) in the same evening. I’ll call that baby steps to bringing the before-times version of myself back from the darkness. 

The gym has been my physical and mental anchor off and on throughout the pandemic. Seeing full faces again is another treat for the early A.M. gym folks. Wearing it while doing cardio was awkward and extremely uncomfortable. I wore my mask without question and only removed it to drink and shower. 

So here we are, spring 2022. A season known for rebirth and growth. Not just in terms of the resurgence of my allergies, also in terms of opportunity. I feel like we’ve learned so much about the deficits in our support systems (healthcare, housing protection, supply chains) or lack thereof these past two very long years. I know that we can’t turn back time (cue Cher) to recoup the losses of life and livelihood, but we can recharge our communities and heal the suffering from what we’ve endured from these experiences. 

We’ve all been through a lot. I’m hoping now with an abundance of patience and grace, we can recover from the woes of old beginnings and thrive in new endings while preparing for what may lie ahead!

This just in….Multnomah County Health Department (Portland) is now strongly urging people to voluntarily wear masks indoors for the next couple of weeks until cases begin to drop again. The story continues!

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