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VOL. 45 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 6, 2021

Fast track to normal stuck in partisan mud

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To quote the great philosopher and sage Yogi Berra, “It’s like de´ja` vu all over again.” Remember when we were all up in arms about masks, what type to wear and when and where? And there were all those people who refused to wear one at all, and griped and groused as if the simple act of showing courtesy to others was an intolerable infringement on their constitutional, God-given right to be jerks.

It was all so ... 2020.

Everybody was eager to put it behind us and move on to what surely would be better times ahead.

But, again quoting the wise Yogi: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

It had looked so promising when, early this year, the vaccines came along and, bit by bit, mask mandates largely went away. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seemed to signal the almost-all-clear, telling fully vaxxed people it was OK to put the masks aside for the most part.

Here we are, though, scant months later with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention again advising that masks be worn even by fully vaccinated people, in some situations:

“To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in an area of substantial or high transmission. Pretty much all of Tennessee is. Pretty much all the South is, for that matter, a fact that correlates with low vaccination rates and red politics.

Surprise!

And yet, Mayor John Cooper of Nashville has indicated the city has no plans to return to a mask mandate, relying instead on the effort to get needles into arms.

The good news on that front is that, according to a recent statement by Cooper, the vaccination rate in Davidson County over the previous seven days had gone up 46%.

The bad news, according to local health officials, is that active COVID cases had gone up 400%.

It doesn’t take an epidemiologist to see the imbalance in those figures.

There’s some suggestion that rising hospitalizations and death rates, almost exclusively involving the unvaccinated, are prompting some of the so-called vaccine-hesitant to get the shots. I have my doubts as to how effective that inducement will prove to be, unless a whole lot more unvaccinated people start keeling over.

It all calls to mind an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” The county nurse enlists Andy’s aid to try to get the ornery rustic Rafe Hollister vaccinated against tetanus. Rafe refuses:

“I ain’t never been jabbed and I ain’t fixin’ to be.”

Later on, though, Andy employs some reverse psychology on Rafe. Tells him he understands his anti-vax stance, since now Rafe can become famous, like Columbus or George Washington.

Andy lays it on with a trowel, describing how a shotless Rafe is a cinch to go – snaps fingers – like that after a saw cut or some such, “moaning and groaning and suffering.” The funeral will be “the biggest thing Mayberry’s ever had.” Maybe they’ll even put up a statue of Rafe in the town square, “slumpin’ as you breathe your last,” his painful death serving as a lesson to others not to neglect their shots.

It works, of course.

“I don’t want to be a dead hero!” Rafe exclaims. “I want to be a live me!”

He takes the shot. Moral: Good sense (and self-interest) triumphs, with a little encouragement.

Trouble is, as my brother Pat, a fellow Andy fan, noted recently, all the Rafe Hollisters have cable TV these days and are probably Fox News viewers. So they’re impervious to reverse psychology, facts, truth, logic and probably even hypnotism, having already been mesmerized.

And patience is growing thin, even among the vaccine-enthusiastic. A friend living in my hometown who got her shots as soon as possible recently posted about her exasperation with the CDC’s new mask advice.

“I’m over COVID,” she told me. “Talk of COVID. I swear if people stopped using it for financial and political gain it would go away.”

It wouldn’t, in fact, but I appreciate her frustration. We may have thought we were on the fast track back to normal, whatever normal means anymore. But Yogi again provides the reality check:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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