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VOL. 45 | NO. 22 | Friday, May 28, 2021

Hard to get a good answer on pandemic steps

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“This is now no longer a pandemic,” a Tennessee legislator declared of the COVID situation last month. She gets points for optimism, though not for accuracy.

At best, her pronouncement was premature.

Still, in her defense, it’s often been a little hard to know what’s what with the COVID situation. From the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s initial no-masks advice to its subsequent mask-up edict, from its vaccine-could-take-years cautions to its here’s-your-vaccine! follow-up, official guidance has been an ever-shifting riddle.

Of course, that’s how science works: As new information becomes available, recommendations can change. That’s why you don’t see doctors in cigarette ads anymore.

Still, even now the COVID information can be coded in government-speak. Consider this from a recent update by the Metro Public Health Department:

“[T]his order is being issued rescinding Order 14 from the Interim Chief medical Director issued on April 16, 2021 and amended on May 7, 2021, and Twelfth Amended and Restated Order 10 from the Interim Chief medical Director issued on April 16, 2021.”

Aside from wondering about the random capitalization, the only possible response to that would seem to be: Huh?

On the national scene, we clearly see that the numbers are getting better, largely because of the extremely effective vaccines. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention again amended its guidelines, a rather abrupt about-face signaling – or perhaps hoping to create – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Fully vaccinated people may, the CDC now says: “Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The hope, apparently, is that giving the green light to the fully vaccinated will encourage even more people to take those one- or two-shot options, leading to still more improvement.

Metro, citing many favorable figures of its own – including “vaccination coverage” for almost four out of five people over age 65 – took its lead from the CDC.

By the way, are we still trying to flatten the curve? Is there still a curve?

I’ve seen a definite upside to loosening mask restrictions. The Sounds game I went to the other night was a pleasant improvement over the first one, in that the crowd no longer looked like it was preparing to rob a bank. (Though the umps, for some reason, were still wearing masks.)

The same goes for my local farmers market, where I can now breathe in the smells from the gumbo vendor unfiltered. I sat in a bar at the bar the other night and had a celebratory Guinness, both for the first time in more than a year.

And, especially gratifying, my church is taking baby steps toward getting people back in the pews.

I’d still like to see businesses continue their mask policies, as my grocery store and local deli seem to be doing. And as Uber is requiring.

That’s partly because, as Metro Health acknowledges in one of its less-opaque advisories, “Currently, there is no standardized way to ensure on a county-wide basis the veracity of self-professed vaccination.”

Which is to say, the people around you with their bare faces may be silently lying about their status.

Given the fact that the people least disposed to wear masks also are the people least disposed to get vaccinated, it’s a safe bet that many are fibbing.

As of the latest figures, just less than 40% in Davidson County are fully shotted, still slightly better than the 38.5% national rate.

It’s just more than 36% in Hamilton County, and a little more than 40% in Knox. Statewide, it’s worse, a little better than 31%.

That’s one of the reasons various places are trying assorted incentives to get people to needles, from the free beer or coffee offered by some Nashville merchants to the big-money lotteries in states like Oregon, Maryland and New York.

Will they work? For some. Others, we’ll never convince, especially those who think the pandemic is over – or that it never existed.

But I’m fast running out of you-know-whats to give about them.

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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