On March 20 I got my one and only J&J Covid vaccine shot. On April 13 I was on a plane to Florida for a two week vacation, a re-entry into the world. The trip was great! It also felt a little strange! I’m fairly early for returning to normalcy, I hope sharing my experience is useful to other folks.
It felt great to be out in the world again. I’m pretty introverted and didn’t find staying at home and being online this last year too awful. But even I was going crazy missing socializing with people, going out, etc. On my trip I went to all sorts of bars, restaurants, gatherings and it felt great. A bit strange the first day or two but I quickly got used to it. In fact I came to resent having to wear a mask anywhere, particularly to meet Florida’s silly requirement you have a mask on when you enter a bar even though no one was wearing one once inside.
I picked Florida to see family, friends, and the gay community in Ft. Lauderdale. But mostly I picked it because Florida has been relatively open all through Covid. Bars open, indoor dining, lots of people congregating. I’m a smug and cautious Californian and all through this last year was troubled by what I saw as irresponsible behavior in Florida. But now that I am vaccinated, that’s exactly what I want to be part of! (And to be fair to Florida, despite their policies their outcome is about the same as California’s).
I’m glad I went all-in on my trip. One danger of this lockdown in the past year is it creates unhealthy psychology where we become afraid to be around people beyond what is rational. There’s an analogy here for the AIDS crisis and gay men’s sexuality. I worry that kids are growing up afraid to hug their friends. I decided to act as if my vaccine gave me 100% immunity and I could go right back to old behavior; hugging, sharing a sip of a drink, being in crowded bars, sharing a hot tub at the hotel. It was great. Particularly drag night at Spencer’s where the bar was packed and no one masked or distancing in any way. Except for the glamorous hostess, a seven foot tall drag queen (heels to hair) with an employee’s plastic face shield. That evening felt entirely normal and healthy and profoundly good for me.
About halfway through the trip a bunch of articles about breakthrough infections were published and I had a brief moment of realization that I was not, in fact, 100% immune. (About 100 of 20,000 vaccinated patients got Covid in the four months of the big J&J study.) But I decided to be OK with my decision to live life as normal. The vaccine makes getting Covid less likely and nearly eliminates severe illness. That’s how it’s going to work going forward: strong but not perfect protection for most of us means the disease stops rampaging. I may have jumped the gun by a few weeks; waiting for 80% vaccination in the country would be safer. I’m not sorry I didn’t wait.
I predict many Americans who are vaccinated will act as I did, returning to normal with enthusiasm. (Not all though; there are plenty of vaccinated folks I know still being much more cautious.) I’ve written before about American selfishness and how it has harmed our public health in the last year. The good news is the #1 step we can take to protect ourselves, vaccination, also protects the people around us. It’s a win-win. The absolute latest guidelines from the CDC seem to agree. Very few restrictions recommended for vaccinated people, and the few that persist (masks indoors) are mostly for proecting people who have not yet been vaccinated.
I do hope our country takes two long term lessons from this nightmare year. First, I want people to wear masks or stay home if they themselves are sick with a cold, a flu, anything. That’s the norm in Asian countries and it should be the norm here. Second, I dearly wish the US would invest more in public health infrastructure. If we were prepared and responded aggressively, like Australia, we might have saved 400,000+ lives last year.
Anyway, in conclusion; get vaccinated! If you’re fully vaccinated and feel ready, go out and have some fun! Within your comfort zone of course, maybe you’re happier avoiding crowded indoor places for awhile longer. Some precautions are still advised. And we still don’t have a good solution for children. But it’s getting better in the US and we are being freed from the terrible limits we’ve been living under this last year.