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A Post Mask Mandate Parable

by on May 15, 2021

A Post Mask Mandate Parable

Tom Trinidad, May 15, 2021

I wrote this parable to help me appreciate the various situations people have now that the mask mandate has been rescinded.

As Carlton entered the lecture hall he was relieved to finally be free of his facemask in public. He never wanted to wear one; the whole virus thing was overblown, in his opinion. More people would agree with him if they would take out the politics and read the right sources. But with the mandate no longer in place for vaccinated people, he could move around according to the freedoms afforded him by the constitution and his own common sense. No one would know he wasn’t vaccinated.

He sat near Janine and Spencer, a twenty-something couple who were obviously in the prime of their lives. Their lifestyle had taken a major hit during the pandemic. They used to eat out several times a week, workout every day at the gym, and take long weekends flying to other big cities. That was all put on hold the past fifteen months. Given everything else they were forced to give up, they wore masks without much complaining, but they never even considered getting the vaccine. Hardly anyone their age got very sick, and the chance of dying was miniscule.  

In the lecture hall there was a screen listing the names of people who were attending online. Janine wondered what the story was with “Leonard H”. Had they been able to talk, Leonard would have shared that he was home-bound. The pandemic hadn’t curtailed much of his going out—he hadn’t seen a restaurant or an airport in years. But it did isolate him in his home. People from his church visited briefly when they dropped groceries on his porch. His social lifeline was online meetings like this lecture. He didn’t even own a mask, though he would need one later this week. His church deacon was going to take him to get the vaccine.

Spencer looked across the hall to a single dad named Ja’Quan. Jac, as he was called, really didn’t want to miss this lecture. For shorter outings he felt comfortable letting his fifteen-year-old take care of his nine-year-old at home. In situations like this, he would often leave them with his elderly neighbors. They were like grandparents to the kids. But the lecture was at night and the neighbors go to bed early.

Jac was a little concerned about bringing the kids tonight. His older child isn’t fully vaccinated yet, and he had some reservations about vaccinating his younger child, even should that be approved soon. What might be the long-term effects? He doesn’t know. He also didn’t know for sure whether his neighbors have been vaccinated. He heard children can have the virus and never show it, but still transfer it to others. Maybe he will quarantine the kids from the neighbors for the next couple of weeks. He would have been more comfortable if the mandate was still in place.

Cheryl nearly didn’t come tonight. She was fully vaccinated early on since she is in the at-risk population, being older and having some co-morbidities. Still, for reasons she couldn’t explain, she is anxious in crowds. She knew this was irrational, but uncertainties don’t always yield to reason easily. She was wearing her mask. It helped ease her anxiety. She was relieved to see that there were still places she could sit with social distancing, though that wasn’t required anymore, either.

Tonight’s presenter came out briefly to adjust the microphone. She looked out over the small crowd. Seeing all the faces—noses and mouths and all!—was somewhat bizarre. Well, not all the faces. There was one woman with a mask on in the back corner. “Must not be fully vaccinated,” she thought. “How great that everyone else is doing what they can so we all can get back to normal. . .”

It did make her question the decision not to include singers in her lecture. The topic is the role of music during pandemics in history. It is an arcane subject that was the topic of her dissertation two years ago. She never dreamed it would be published or put her on the speakers’ circuit, but here she is. Her crowds were getting smaller since the vaccine rollout. This is the smallest crowd yet, probably because the mask mandate had been lifted and people were celebrating.

Which brought her back to thinking about the singers she didn’t include. She had developed and delivered this lecture with recordings only. Using live singers would make it much more interesting. Maybe something to consider if she continued these presentations.

Reflection Topics

  • Carlton appears to everyone to be vaccinated and thus deemed safe without a mask. In reality he may pose a risk to others who are not vaccinated, like Ja’Quan’s children and through them, possibly Jac’s neighbors.
  • Leonard’s life would be more secure and social if he had gotten the vaccine earlier, but he didn’t have the means. Things might really change for him thanks to his church deacon helping him get the vaccine.
  • Jac has one child that could be vaccinated, and one for whom the vaccine has not yet been approved. Even though the risks to them are minimal given their age, they still pose a risk to his neighbors if his neighbors are not vaccinated. To alleviate Jac’s concerns, he could be like Leonard’s deacon and ensure his neighbors are vaccinated if they want to be.
  • Carlton, Janine, and Spencer have chosen not to be vaccinated. Whatever their individual reasons, they are part of this small community and most responsibly should consider the situations of others in the community.
  • Cheryl knows she suffers from anxiety and is dealing with it by taking extra precautions. It wouldn’t be fair for her to expect everyone to be so cautious, but without the opportunity to wear her mask and sit with social distancing, she might have left the lecture.
  • The presenter is concerned that the crowds will continue to dwindle and her opportunities to share her passion will decrease with them. She has ideas how to revitalize her presentation, but she also wants to be sensitive to the needs of her audience.
  • Everyone in this parable has made choices, and has choices yet to make. To be together in the most communal way, each one’s choices best take into consideration everyone else’s. And that is the first choice each one will have to make.

Implications for Church Gatherings

In the interest of everyone who may want to worship and meet together at the church, we will require masks for the next eight weeks. This will give everyone who wants to time to get vaccinated. It also allows time to determine the vaccination status of others who may be exposed through them (like Jac’s neighbors). We urge everyone to make decisions that respect his or her own convictions as well as the complexities created by being in community.

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