PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
Masks off?

OPINION | A return to normal

Published on March 22, 2022 at 12:04 am
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Over the last few weeks, I’ve allowed my son to go out in the world sans mask. Initially, it wasn’t a conscious decision. Rushing out the door to get him to school on time, I forgot to remind him to grab one of his many masks lying around the house. I suggested he get one from the front office at school. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. However, I didn’t press him about it like I did that time I found out he lied to me about wearing a mask. And just as he has been these maskless, so have I. 

Something in me has shifted when it comes to my level of concern concerning COVID. I think it’s a weariness of all the precautions and the extra effort exerted by the hyper-vigilance required to keep abreast of all the data, stats, and recommendations. While Duval County is finally no longer considered a high-transmission hot spot and therefore the CDC recommends a relaxation of COVID precautions, we were out here living our best maskless lives before the county crossed that threshold. 

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I have accepted for a while that COVID is a new part of life like a cold or the flu. I don’t upend my life over either of those. (Honestly, I vainly joke about wanting to catch the flu in order to easily drop 7 pounds. Cue The Devil Wears Prada.) In this acceptance, I have found myself gauging my comfort level of being without a mask in public spaces day by day, event by event. 

If I’m out and a mask is required in the interest of safety, I’ll wear one. If an event requires me to receive a COVID test to attend, I’ll get one. If I’m unsure of where I am and the level of safety of people around me—like the grocery store—I may grab a mask from the middle console; or I may not. 

Two years after a global pandemic was declared, two years after stay-at-home orders were issued, and two years after writing about the impacts of COVID on healthcare, on mental health, on mothers, students, etc., I think more about how the trauma of the pandemic has radically changed who we are as people. In the beginning, the death was overwhelming and senseless. At the time we showed up to a boxing match with no gloves and our arms tied behind our backs. Now we have more than a fighting chance thanks to the availability of three successful vaccines. The deaths now are sad, as deaths always are. COVID is killing off our elderly despite their vaccination status, while those unvaccinated who succumb to the virus seem to regret their intransigent decision to refuse a fighting chance. 

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When COVID attacked my daughter. I worried about not just her health, but her life. My mother rarely leaves her house without a mask. I’ve seen the disposition in my nephew change after a year and a half of virtual school because of the restrictions that were in place where he lives. My own son has never been afraid of COVID and has never been hesitant to approach kids to play. I am thankful that for him this pandemic has been an inconvenience, a mild annoyance, instead of a seismic shift in how he sees and moves in the world. 

Last week was spring break. Our days were lazy. A play date here, a day at the park there, a spontaneous trip to the zoo. All of it conducted without a mask. It was both surprisingly easy to not be afraid and yet still odd. At one point during our zoo trip my son absent-mindedly put his mouth on the back of a chair inside the restaurant where we were grabbing lunch. I quickly admonished him, made a disgusted face, and then joked, “You’re going to catch corona.” He laughed back at me and said, “I forgot. I didn’t even know I was doing it.”  

The moment, though fleeting, has had a lasting impression. It was then when I realized the shift within. I am no longer afraid. I am no longer glued to the news for any and every update on COVID. I’m aware of the omicron variant BA.2 as well as the mutant deltachron, and I have as much patience for them as I did H1N1, Zika, or Ebola. I’m aware, I’m informed, but I’m unafraid and unaccommodating. Resistant to change my life on a chance infection.

Maybe I’ll regret these words, but for now I’m living my new normal.   

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

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