In May I wrote about “Coming Out of the Cave.” I wrote about some of the “normal” things we were starting to do. We’ve dined out and gone to public places without wearing masks. We booked a remodeling job in our home in October. I started making plans to sing with our choral group in the fall.
I wrote back then:
I hope we don’t have to return to the cave. But we don’t know what will happen with the virus. The worst nightmare is that it keeps getting more infectious and also causes more severe illness with high mortality rates. As long as it is out there, especially at significant levels, that is possible, especially with over half the country and much more of the world un-vaccinated. Because of that, I can’t think of a return to pre-pandemic “normal.” That is living in a dream. But like most of you, I will enjoy a bit more life outside the cave this summer.
What I hoped would not happen has. The Delta variant is sweeping through the country with huge rises in cases. It is at least 2 1/2 times more infectious as original COVID, and while the vaccines are very effective in preventing hospitalization and death, they are less so, in preventing infection. As one of the “over 65” crowd, my immune system isn’t as strong as younger people, and even a number of them who have been vaccinated have had “breakthrough” infections. Most of these are mild, but one doctor described mild as a bad cold or a case of the flu. That doesn’t sound great. A booster shot will help, but there aren’t any yet, and it will be some time. The six-month mark when the vaccine may begin to wane comes around the end of September for me.
So what does that mean? I will continue to worship with our “masked” church and resume wearing masks when I am shopping indoors. I will seek outdoor or take out dining. Indoor gatherings with large numbers where I don’t know the vaccination status seems really iffy. Long exposures mean enough exposure to this more infectious virus that may be more than my immune system can handle.
Looking at the infection curves of the previous waves, it appears waves take five to six months to wax and wane, peaking 2-3 months in. Officials are saying October will be bad. That would be about right. And maybe it will wane by January–if something new doesn’t come along.
I find myself both angry and sad. Fundamentally, I’m angry because this doesn’t have to be. While vaccines never provide complete protection, a high vaccination rate would make it much harder for this variant to take hold. I’m angered at the misinformation campaigns that have persuaded people that the vaccine is far worse than the virus, which is just plain wrong. The long term debilities and the deaths resulting from this are on them, and on the public officials who cave to them. I’m angry that those asserting their “freedom” end up making others less free and possibly sick.
And I’m sad. I’m sad for our economy, which will never fully recover until COVID is suppressed. I’m sad for all those like myself, who because of risk factors need to reconsider all the things we had just begun doing. Most of all, I am sad for all those who will die or get very sick who did not need to. I’m sad for kids who are getting sick because they can’t get vaccinated and the adults in their lives won’t. It all seems such a waste. I’m sad that we are so divided over this even in a time of crisis.
I’m not sure if I will sing with our choir (if they are able to). The choir is requiring proof of vaccination. But it is not clear that we will mask, and singing has been proven to be a very effective way of spreading COVID. Do I hope that no one is infected with a breakthrough infection, and that vaccinated people are unlikely to spread infection? [Update: In the 24 hours since I wrote this the CDC has announced that vaccinated persons who are infected do shed the virus in significant amounts and can infect others.] There is a lot we don’t know. I also have to think about my wife, who has had some health issues.
I’ve concluded that I can’t change anyone’s mind about these things. Given our divided state, and the challenge of vaccinating the world, I believe we will be dealing with COVID for a long time, as the virus keeps mutating and circulating. I think we will have alternating seasons of relative normalcy, and others of infection spikes. I will keep paying attention to infection rates and gauge my behavior appropriately.
And my faith? I will not “test” God by exposing myself to possible infection on purpose or recklessly. Nor will I presume that anything “protects” me–masks, vaccines, anything. I will use these means as gracious provisions of God to reduce my risk of infection but my trust is in God, not means. My trust is in the God who already has numbered my days. I believe I will live as long as God gives me life. I will do all I can not to be a source of infection to others.
While I’ve enjoyed life out of the cave, I’ve also discovered in the last year the richness of days shared with my wife, a good conversation with a friend, times with vaccinated friends and family, the beauties in my own backyard, and the delights of a good book. Philippians 4:12-13 is more real to me now than ever: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Whether COVID waxes or wanes, and I believe it will continue to do both, Christ continues to be the one who gives me strength. And that is enough.