Constable: Freedom just another word for keeping on a mask

  • Nothing says patriotism like being a fully vaccinated American wearing double masks to the voting booth.

      Nothing says patriotism like being a fully vaccinated American wearing double masks to the voting booth. Burt Constable | Staff Photographer

  • In a scene we need to see more of, VNA Nurse Practitioner Michelle Sexton prepares a shot at a new mass vaccination site opened in the former Carson Pirie Scott store at Fox Valley in Aurora.

      In a scene we need to see more of, VNA Nurse Practitioner Michelle Sexton prepares a shot at a new mass vaccination site opened in the former Carson Pirie Scott store at Fox Valley in Aurora. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/6/2021 5:10 AM

Marking two weeks since my second coronavirus vaccine shot, Monday was to be my "Freedom Day," the day I was finally free from the pandemic. After more than a year of working from home, doing interviews by phone and Zoom, and rarely venturing out in public, I anticipated I would spend the day celebrating in mask-less glory with my vaccinated peers.

But I'm not ready to embrace that freedom.

 

As Janis Joplin and her friend, Bobby McGee, remind us, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose," and there is still plenty for us to lose.

We've seen a spring spike in the number of infections in recent weeks. The number of variant cases is on the rise. Only a third of Americans are vaccinated.

When the air-conditioner technician came to our house Monday to make sure we're ready for what might be a hot summer, he wore a mask. I wore a mask. We didn't shake hands. He raved about how easy it was getting his first vaccine shot at the old Kmart in Des Plaines, and how much he was looking forward to his second.

I'm double-masking my way to the voting booth today, in what I consider a double-dose of patriotism, along the lines of not shaking hands and not kissing babies. Not only am I upholding democracy, I am protecting my neighbors casting ballots and those heroic poll workers.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say I am free to travel willy-nilly "at low risk" to myself. But just as there are parents who put their faith in 99% effective condoms, we fully vaccinated people aren't guaranteed that we'll keep the virus at bay.

I'm not abandoning my faithful, sturdy cloth mask during pilgrimages to the grocery store, and I'm keeping the box of those lightweight blue masks in the console of my car.

I'm not "living in fear," "surrendering my freedom," or "giving Dr. Fauci the power," as some people say. I'm doing what makes me feel safe. I wear my seat belt, use my turn signals, scrub my vegetables, wash my hands, cover my nose and mouth when I sneeze, and don't keep a loaded gun in my house, not because I'm kowtowing to Big Brother, socialists, communists, or some fascist or antifa overlord. I do those things because I feel safer doing those things. That is me exercising my freedom to make choices.

I haven't eaten at a restaurant (even outside) for more than a year. That might change now that my wife and I are fully vaccinated, but I'm not in the rush I thought I'd be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Just because I can, doesn't mean I will.

At my dental checkup the other day, my dentist (who is fully vaccinated, and wears a mask and a face shield) said this is the first year he can remember when he didn't spend part of his winter alternating between NyQuil and DayQuil as he fought off some upper-respiratory funk. He also said that while disposing of his face shield every day, he noticed lots of gunk that apparently used to hit him in the face. He's keeping his mask and face shield even if the CDC says he doesn't have to do that.

His story reminded me of how, as a young reporter responding to police radio calls, I arrived at a motorcycle accident just in time to see the female passenger have a seizure and die. Her boyfriend, who was wearing a helmet, was OK. She also had on a helmet. She just didn't fasten it, so it flew off before her head hit the pavement. I haven't gotten on a bicycle since without fastening my helmet.

I'll admit that I looked dorky as my wife and I were the helmet-wearing parents who slowly biked down a quiet street with a helmeted child in a rear seat, or a couple of helmeted children strapped into a pull-behind carrier. President Obama once got grief from people who thought he looked "weak" or like a "sissy" for wearing a helmet while bicycling. I celebrate my freedom to look dorky and be safe.

A mask is sort of the same thing, except it means you care more about protecting strangers than you do about looking dorky. No one can tell if you did the right thing and got a vaccine, but the numbers add up. The Navajo Nation, once a hotbed for coronavirus deaths, now has a higher vaccination rate than every state, and the infections and deaths have plummeted. It would be great if the rest of the nation did the same.

In the meantime, I'll exercise my freedom to keep myself and others safe.

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