2020 has been a brutal year for most Americans (and for most people around the world). With the vaccine starting to be administered, it looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel… but it’s important to remember that right now, we’re still in the tunnel. So as 2020 ends and 2021 begins, and a new President is inaugurated, it will be tempting to feel like we’re in a new era.
But the truth is, it’ll take a few months to get the vaccine out to everyone, which means you’ll have to keep wearing masks, keep vigorously washing your hands, and worst of all, keep your distance from loved ones in the weeks and months to come. And while the wait to hug our parents, grandparents and friends seems to be more unbearable with each passing day, the overwhelming majority of the medical and scientific community says that it’s necessary to do just that. We need to stay vigilant and disciplined and not to allow the virus to spread any further.
Unfortunately, not everyone possesses that level of discipline, and in the coming weeks and months, you’ll probably run into situations where friends/family members/colleagues will try to convince you that it’s ok to go out, gathering in large groups is no longer dangerous and that the mask is no longer mandatory. And hey, we’re all looking forward to getting back to life: going to concerts, movies, restaurants, parties, sporting events, and more. But saying “no” in this situation can be as tough (and as important) as saying “no” to getting into a car with a driver who has had too much to drink or friends who are doing illegal drugs.
Like those situations, if you decline to participate, you’ll likely be told that you worry too much, that you take no risks, it’s nothing to worry about, you’re no fun, etc. And like those situations, you really need to, first and foremost, concern yourself with yourself and what you want. If your family and friends are planning on having gatherings or going out together before you feel OK with doing that, just tell them that you’re simply not comfortable in large groups. Emphasize that it’s nothing personal. Note that this may not work if you haven’t been consistent through the pandemic, particularly if you’ve posted photos on social media. Even still, you always have the right to set your own boundaries.
But your friends and family should know that it isn’t that you don’t want to see them, it’s that you don’t feel comfortable being in groups right now, and you won’t have a good time anyway. This may or may not help, but most epidemiologists would agree that that masks, social distancing and avoiding large groups is the safest choice, until most of the country has had the vaccine. Of course, it’s still a good idea to stay connected with friends and family via phone calls, video chats, and — sure — social media. But don’t let social media replace actual real-time interaction.
And, of course, the ability to say “No” and set your own boundaries is something that you should feel comfortable with long after this pandemic ends.
*A caveat: saying “no” to wearing a mask because you don’t want to, or because you assign some sort of political value to masks, isn’t the kind of “no” that we’re talking about here. We’re talking about protecting your own personal space and peace of mind: when you don’t wear a mask, you’re not just putting yourself in danger, you’re endangering everyone around you. It’s one thing to drink too much: you may get sick, or end up in the hospital. You may end up with a bad hangover. Or you may wake up tomorrow and everything is fine. But if you drive a car while under the influence, it’s illegal, and for good reason: your actions can affect people who you’ve never met.
So yes, we know that wearing masks is annoying: just hang in there, hopefully, we’ll have some semblance of normalcy a few months into 2021.