A month ago, pretty much every sixth text message went something like this: “Hey, gotta cancel for tomorrow. Just tested positive.” We were at the height of the Key West Covid-19 Omicron case count. If you didn’t know someone with Covid, you knew someone standing in one of those interminable lines to get tested.
Some of us even dug out our masks. Those of us who’d never stopped wearing one, doubled up and got a new jug of sanitizer. (Sidebar: Mine are the luckiest of hands. In early 2020 Covid days a friend scored what seemed like a gazillion gallons of alcohol and aloe. She makes THE best sanitizer — none of that wussy, sticky, smelly commercial stuff — so she cranked up the caldron and made a new batch for Omicron.)
Then, just like a Key West sunset, Omicron vanished. OK, not really, but mostly. Certainly from our “most outraging events” lists. New case counts and deaths went down; lines disappeared; staff stopped calling in sick; the party rolled on; and the headlines went back to other world-ending crises. (Toilet paper of particular brands remains spotty and my Cat 5s are turning up their collective noses at off-brand wet food, but they’re not starving.)
Human brains are so cool. Brains have all these parallel tracks that rarely intersect, that make perfect sense while being contradictory of the track next to it. We can laser-focus on managing cruise ships, fretting justifiably about where we’re going to live and how we’re going to pay the bills — and at the same time, wonder what we’re going to wear to tonight’s Headdress Ball.
Key West Covid has joined Key West Crud as something we live with. It’s that brain-in-parallel-universe thing. We’ll deal with Covid consequences as they arise, but we’ve moved past, way past, the memes and hunkering down of 2020.
Two years ago, just as Key West Covid-19 popped up on our island radar, I wrote this: “Key West Crud is a thing. Well, at least we talk about it like it’s a thing. Long about December and lasting through, oh, say, Mother’s Day, we share the crud with friends, family and the lucky tourists who go home and tell people what a wonderful time they had but just can’t seem to shake the cold and cough they picked up along the way. The Key West Crud is, unfortunately, perhaps our parting gift to visitors.”
The pest control guy who knows most of what’s going on in Key West because he’s, like, everywhere, told me this week he’s seeing a ton of Crud. “Not Covid,” he volunteered. “Crud. We haven’t seen Crud in a couple years.” He stopped and grinned (I could actually SEE the grin) and said: “Probably because we were all wearing masks.”
Living with Key West Covid — and the Crud
Look, I accept that among my friends, I’m likely the least frantic about Covid-19. I’m still doing the mask-wash-distance thing; though I admit the reason I do it is far less about Covid and way more about not air-kissing at every friendly greeting. I like the anonymity of my mask, though it does remain disconcerting to be recognized — even with a mask — in the grocery store. Props and respect to folks who can do that. And the pest guy is right: Wearing my mask means fewer allergy and asthma attacks and way less time sacrificed to the Crud.
I’m “shotted” and boosted. But, I never wore my mask when I walked the neighborhood, not even back in the early days when the City of Key West mandated it. I did keep it at hand in case I ran into someone or saw a cop car in the distance. But, outside? Alone? Nah.
I’ve been flying around the country since the beginning because there were family things that needed doing. I haven’t missed a weekly in-person grocery run; takeout, rarely delivery; didn’t wash my mail or leave the Amazon boxes on the porch in the sun. A gamble? Sure. Especially since in that first nine months, we knew little about Covid-19. For all I knew then, this coronavirus would fulfill the direst of predictions: an extinction event.
Well, by the grace of God, the crick didn’t rise that far and that most nimble of things, the human brain, got busy on vaccines that could hold Covid-19 at bay. More of us would, of course, be alive had that brain — or lack thereof — not gone off the rails at various points. Still, we are adjusting to life with Key West Covid just as we long ago adjusted to Key West Crud. I’m good with that.
Now back to unearthing tutus, masks (wonder if I can work in an N95 under the glitter?) and head gear for the Headdress Ball.