So it gets down to the honor system. Trust. If you are fully vaccinated you can do pretty much what you would like. Go to the movies. Eat out. Go to the gym. Dance in the streets. Attend church. All without masks. If you are not fully vaccinated, you can’t. Mask on.

It’s the big divide. The fully vaccinated versus the non-vaccinated. How are we to tell? We can’t. Supposedly we can ask for verification, but we won’t. Not uniformly. So we are left trusting in those not vaccinated to wear their masks until they get the shots.

According to the Center for Disease Control the risk of catching the virus is predominately left to those who are not vaccinated. Those who are fully vaccinated stand a minimal chance of either catching the virus or spreading it. They are the “free” ones. Those who are not vaccinated will continue to be at risk and they will be the ones spreading it to others within their grouping.

Which makes you value where you live. Vermont is reportedly the safest state in the nation, just ahead of Connecticut. 54 percent of us are fully vaccinated and 75 percent of us have received at least one dose. New England, in fact, is by far the nation’s safest region, all six New England states rank in the top 10 states with the highest rate of vaccination.

Why is that?

It’s been suggested it’s part political. This region of the nation is more liberal than most of the rest of the country and Democrats are more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans. Maybe. A stronger case can probably be made that demographically we are older and, as such, we’re more at risk. Three of us — Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — are also the least diverse. We have much smaller populations of people of color. Perhaps we also trust those who lead us more than those in other states. An argument can also be made that it’s our small size; we know one another and it’s more difficult to be an outlier. We’re conformers. Rule followers. Who’d of thought?

Whatever the reasons, it’s important to acknowledge what makes things work and what doesn’t. As we’ve been told, this will not be the last pandemic. Although we’re largely through this virus — cross your fingers — the 14-month travail was catastrophic, not only in Vermont, but nationally and world-wide.

It will be a long time before we are able to accurately detail the pandemic’s past, present and future impact, which includes the loss of local businesses, thousands of jobs and an immense strain on our financial resources. There’s the toll on the public’s mental and physical health, and a general wariness of whether things will completely revert to what we once considered normal. By April of last year we had sent home roughly 82,000 students, our learners, tomorrow’s leaders. What did they lose and how can it made up? And what of the disproportionate number of women who have been forced from the workplace? Will they return in the same numbers? And will our experience with remote work change forever the workplace? [Our guess is that people will return to work; it’s too hard to remain motivated, committed, engaged and productive sitting at home.]

Returning to the workplace — at whatever regularity — doesn’t mean a return to everything that constituted the “old normal” which pertains to life in general. The “old normal” wasn’t that great. The hope is that we have learned from our mistakes and will stitch together that which we have learned with tomorrow’s needs. It’s the basic understanding that our relationships with others is what affirms our existence. The pandemic has made it crystal clear that the phrase “public health” touches everything from health care, affordable housing, education, equity, race, gender and income. It’s the wellbeing of us all and what the pandemic did was to strike at those fault lines, exposing the weaknesses, but, also showing us the work ahead.

For the moment, however, what’s important is to stay vigilant and to encourage those who have yet to be vaccinated to do so. We’ve lost more than a full year of interacting with our friends and families the way we expect to do so, the way that’s healthy. Perhaps it’s up to those who are vaccinated to show those who aren’t what they are missing.

Will we reach them all? No. We know that. But we’re becoming within reach of herd immunity in Vermont. If we can trust one another to reach that goal, then those who are frightened of the needle, or who don’t understand the virus [or who will even admit it exists] will matter less. Compared to the rest of the world, Vermont’s standing pretty tall.

by Emerson Lynn

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