It took me a while to always remember to grab my mask whenever I would leave my apartment in the early days of NYC’s lockdown in the spring of 2020. Now, two years later, it’s became second nature to wear a mask and I would feel strange without one on my face in any indoor public setting. Going for a walk or being outside is another story. I’m fine without one on. The possibility of being maskless indoors, however, is going to take some getting used to.
I overheard similar concerns yesterday as I waited in the checkout line at a local CVS on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. An older woman who was standing near her friend on the checkout line was saying, loudly enough so most everyone in the front of the CVS store on Broadway could hear, that she was not likely to be taking off her mask. “You don’t know if someone near you has a new Covid form,” she kept saying. I assume she meant a new variant.
That’s the problem. We won’t know, and can only trust in the vaccines we’ve had (even though half the reports say the immunity to them wanes over time) and our masks.
Unquestionably, winter, and especially several days in a row of gray skies and precipitation, seem to make the pandemic worse –at least for me. I’ve felt like Bill Murray in the movie, “Groundhog Day”, more times than I can count. One friend on a Zoom call this afternoon remarked, “I just can’t tell what day of the week it is anymore.” Many others on the screen nodded in agreement.
I’m triple-vaxxed since late October but still haven’t seen a theatrical performance or even been to a museum since before March 2020 (although that may soon change now that Omicron cases in New York City have significantly dropped). I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant.
I’m not sure how one ventures back out into the world. But until I do resume many missing activities of my life, the dreariness of the pandemic, and the winter, make the days all seem the same.
It was one of those uneventful mornings after an equally uneventful trip to my local grocery store on Broadway, on the Upper West Side in New York City. I waited until the light had changed for me to be able to cross a particularly wide stretch of Broadway. The cars and trucks had stopped, since they had a red light. A large truck was stopped in the last lane. That’s significant because the truck blocked my view of a bicyclist riding one of those (wretched) electric bikes in a narrow passage of street to his left.
He blew into the crosswalk and came within inches of mowing me down. Luckily, he swerved just in time. It was a very close call.
Was this a moving violation? Well, that’s easy. There is something called the “New York City Department of Transportation TRAFFIC RULES”, Title 34, Chapter 4.
Specifically, for “Steady red alone” traffic signals, Section 4-03, says “Vehicular traffic facing such signal shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection…and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown.”
There is also a definition of “Vehicle” : “A “vehicle” means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.” Clearly, that electric bike is a vehicle.
Now, it begs the question of what to do to keep it from happening again…and again…and again.
After our vaccinations, there’s no question that we all need a good mask to increase our odds of not getting Covid. The public service announcements for what constitutes a “good mask” are coming thick and fast. There should be no tiny air spaces between your face and the mask, so the ubiquitous blue surgical masks have fallen from grace. They don’t hug your face.
The gold-standard of masks, the N95’s that we were told not to buy in 2020, so they could go to healthcare professionals, are now readily available online. The fine print for many of them say they are ‘NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved for at least 95 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil based particles’. The ones I have (and I bought a few to try from 3 different manufacturers) fit like a second skin on my face. The problem are those elastic bands, one around your head and the second around your neck. I can handle an hour with them on and then my face and skull begin to rebel. (If I have the courage someday to attend a play in NYC, and the mask mandate is still in effect, it had better have no more than a 1 hour running time.)
The KN95’s, the ones with the ear loops, are definitely easier and more comfortable to wear. However, my glasses fog up with one of them on. I assume if my breath is capable of escaping to fog my glasses, then those teeny-tiny Covid particles have a way in, too. So they’ve fallen a few notches down on my personal mask “Favorites” list.
I’ve already thrown out all of the cute cloth masks I bought on Etsy in March and April of 2020. Cute as those gingham patterns were, they also didn’t pass my Glasses Fog test.
The N95s are definitely the Top Mask in my mask basket. No glasses fog. No air pockets. Just pain.
Although I’m officially retired, I spend time writing and illustrating this blog (although not as regularly as I would like). I also spend time working as a volunteer for the New York City Chapter of The Transition Network (www.https://www.thetransitionnetwork.org/events/nyc/), a not-for-profit networking organization for women over 50 transitioning into retirement. In particular, I’m involved with one of their Caring Collaborative Neighborhood Groups. These are groups that are neighborhood-based throughout the city, comprised of members of TTN who wish to support each other through regular meetings and shared information about health and well-being. I also have five wonderful grandchildren, all 8 and under, whom I hope to see more regularly, thanks to the Covid vaccine finally being approved for the 11 and under group.
However, I’m finding that I have free time, and that free time has led me to want to reach out and seriously explore additional volunteer work.
I contacted Americorps.gov and they immediately responded. After completing and submitting some forms, my contact sent me a list of potential openings with nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers. There were so many. They ran the gamut from volunteering to work in a soup kitchen, to tutoring, to mentoring, to helping recent immigrants craft their resumes and hone their interviewing skills, to simply having regular friendly conversations with homebound senior citizens. I’m deciding how I can be the most help but I’m left with the realization that there is an extraordinary amount of need out there thanks to the pandemic and everyone who can help in any way, should do that. They all also welcome donations if you can’t offer your services.
One of the great discoveries for many of us these past 18 months of the pandemic has to be the marvels of Zoom. For those of us who are retired and not needing to be part of a virtual office, it has allowed us to safely take classes, participate in all sorts of cultural and religious events and, most importantly, stay connected to friends and family.
For me, it has allowed for a get-together with cousins (one of whom I’ve never met and several whom I haven’t seen in years) living all over the country. We live in blue states and red states and pretty much cover all the possible time zones in the country.
Conversing with first cousins who remember some of your most embedded childhood memories, of people and places, is remarkable. Meeting first cousins for the first time is also amazing.
It’s a silver lining of the pandemic and I’m looking forward to it ending, once and for all, to be able to meet or get together again, in person. Finally.
Here it is the end of August 2021. A year ago, I was an unvaccinated senior citizen. I would venture out of my apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan wearing 2 masks, with a face shield in my bag, just in case. If only there could be a vaccine, I thought.
And then there was a vaccine.
My second Moderna vaccination was on February 13, 2021. I’m about to begin the 7th month into my vaccine efficacy. Recent news reports suggest that it’s dropped significantly from the 90% or so of protectiveness I might have had two weeks after the second vaccination. At 8 months, I’ll apparently be eligible for a booster.
With that waning effectiveness, I’m now pulling out my pile of masks and, once again, wearing them. A lot. I’ll often wear two in any indoor setting (store, doctor’s office). Yesterday, I even put on a face shield over two masks when I rode on a NYC bus after the driver allowed a maskless man to board and remain unmasked for his 20 minute ride. People glared at him but he was indifferent. No one had the courage to tell him to wear a mask, such is the fear of mask rage. When I got home, I sent a complaint to the MTA about the incident and they responded saying that they “would notify the NYPD”. Good luck, I thought.
So here we all are. To quote the famous Yoga Berra line. “It’s like deja vu all over again.”
I think pedestrian safety in NYC is an oxymoron. Try crossing the street, for instance. Even in a crosswalk, with the light, a bicyclist or someone on a scooter will likely be zipping towards you at breakneck speed. And won’t be stopping, just because you have the light and he doesn’t. Hopefully, he’ll swerve and not hit you.
It’s actually pretty outrageous.
Nor is reckless behavior of bicyclists or scooter drivers confined to the streets. These days you can find them on the sidewalks as well. Many times, they’re delivery guys aiming to get their motorized bikes back to the restaurant that’s dispatched them. They get up on the sidewalk for the last leg of their trip to park in front of the restaurant’s front door.
I know friends who walk on the sidewalk and look all around them before “changing lanes” to move left or right, in case they’d be moving into the lane of a bike or scooter. We’re talking sidewalks now, not streets.
Whatever happened to the saying that ‘pedestrians have the right of way’. Not anymore.
From March 2020 until a few weeks ago, I would see some people in New York City wearing the infamous “chin mask” and quietly steam. That seemingly pointless mask practice irritated me beyond words. Most of us learned from news stories about people who commented on mask-wearing practices (or non-mask-wearing practices) and were then needing to recover from punches to their own faces or worse. So I took the prudent way out with those idiots and adjusted my own mask more snugly.
Now, with mask requirements falling away in New York City, many of us are breathing outside air again with no masks. I can’t even begin to say how wonderful it is to smell the grass and plants in Riverside Park. Of course, that’s the maskless outside walk.
What about inside? Most stores I walk past here still have mask signs in front and, honestly, even if they didn’t, I couldn’t imagine walking into any without a mask over my nose and mouth. But what do you do with it while you’re just walking around outside and until you go into a store or building? Why, you wear it on your chin, of course.
It’s taken me 14 months of constantly wearing a mask in New York City (sometimes 2, and sometimes 2 with a face shield over them both) but I consider grabbing my mask as routine as grabbing my keys.
It will be nothing short of unsettling to not wear one in public and I’ll have to build up to that. Perhaps I’ll start by not wearing one when I take out the trash to the cans on my floor. Only twice in 14 months have I encountered another person when I do that. So that’s not really going to raise my pulse rate.
Not wearing one in the elevator, however, will be a giant leap forward. Probably when I graduate to that level of insouciance, I will be just about ready for the street. Imagine seeing peoples’ mouths and noses again. Then I’ll try not to fixate on their exhalations and, God forbid, sneezes or coughs. This will take some getting used to.