By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
While I am excited for June 30, the reopening of Washington state, I have some reservations.
I can’t help wondering if we are ready. A month ago, I couldn’t wait. I wished reopening was immediate. Now, I have second thoughts because some people have refused to get vaccinated. I doubt if we can ever reach our goal of getting 70% of our population vaccinated as President Joe Biden has wished.
If we reopen, what are the things we should be paying attention to? Should we greet our friends with hugs and handshakes? Are we ready to go to work in the office five days a week? Should we go out to eat as often as we did before the pandemic? Should we attend big and small meetings like I used to? Should I wear my mask even though some places have lifted the mask mandate? Oh, what should I wear? Casual clothes or fashionable clothes? Should I go to big events like the Seattle Symphony?
The vaccine question
I wrote in my March blog that whenever you want to have lunch with non-family members, you should ask before you get together, “Are you vaccinated?”
It was important then and even more relevant now. You spent more than a year to protect yourself from Covid, with numerous sacrifices and unspeakable hardship. Don’t ruin it in one reckless act.
To know that you are sitting across from someone who has been inoculated, it relaxes you so you can fully enjoy the meal. Never assume someone did, unless you ask the question before lunch, and your friend gives you a definite answer. You have the right to know. It’s not embarrassing because we are talking about life and death. If your friend hasn’t, you should say, “You are not ready to eat out. Get the vaccine. It will help yourself, your family, and the community.”
Put hugs on hold
Brazil and Italy are countries that had high infection and death rates during Covid. I understand why, as I was in Brazil in December 2019, and in Italy five times. These countries and their respective cultures embrace hugging not only between men and women, and women and women, but between men and men. I have seen Brazilians hug each other even when they meet each other for the first time. Maybe the pandemic will change their cultural habits now.
We exhibit our warmth through our body language. It releases endorphins when we hug someone we like. That’s exactly how Covid spreads, through human contact.
After being locked down for 15 months, we yearn for human connection and touch. But for everyone’s sake, don’t. Wait for a couple more months, even if the other party has been fully vaccinated.
Replace your hugs and handshakes with elbow and shoe bumps for the time being. I tend to forget sometimes, and offer my hand. If you have done that, please wash your hands afterwards. Better do the right things than to be sorry later.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s gradual approach
What irritated me most about the pandemic was not being able to attend live concerts. I don’t miss theaters, sporting events, or outdoor festivals. I missed going to Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concerts at Benaroya Hall.
Two weeks ago, I went. It was a treat to see SSO musicians and conductor Ludovic Morlot. From a seating capacity of 2,500, their first event was limited only to staff (less than 30 people), the second event had 150 people, and the third concert I attended in mid-June had 220 people.
The roll call box was completely eliminated. You got e-tickets or emails. There were 26 musicians on stage, less than the full orchestra size of 40+ members. Their seating arrangement adhered to social distancing guidelines, sitting wide apart from one another.
Every side row seated only two people, while the center row seated two to four people allowing for social distancing, and leaving as many as 20 seats empty.
Despite the hall’s emptiness, the emcee (violinist) asked the audience to applaud as much as we could.
“We need it,” he said. And we did, delivering a thunderous applause and two standing ovations for a smashing program after every performance.
There were no paper programs to hand out. You could check the online program before you go.
The emailed tickets instructed the requirement of temperature checks and being vaccinated.
The ushers checked each attendee’s temperature, but no proof of vaccination. SSO was being cautious by testing out the number of audience members, even though it was allowed to seat up to 50%. I was comfortable watching the whole program without any uneasiness. Everything was carefully thought out and arranged.
SSO probably lost money on the program. But the argument is, it is better to have the musicians back to work than staying home, and bringing a live audience back is a milestone. When the musicians rose from their chairs to acknowledge the applause, there was not one musician who didn’t carry a smile. It’s been a while for the audience and the performers to feel delight and satisfaction during the atrocious pandemic. It was a magical moment of triumph for all of us to spell loud and clear, “We will not kowtow to Covid.”
What to wear?
My closet is packed with some nice clothes. But I don’t care to wear them now. The pandemic has changed me. I would rather spend time on what really matters in life. Right now, dressing to impress serves no purpose. I am not going anywhere or meeting big shots.
For the past months, I have enjoyed wearing jeans. And I am not worried that people might say I am a slob. It takes a lot of time to dress attractively, as it requires effort to match accessories, such as jewelry, shoes, and a purse. Presently, time is too valuable to spend on choosing clothes.
Fortunately, most places I venture out to these days are parks, waterfronts, and forests. And casual pants are perfect.
However, if wearing stylish clothes brings you pleasure, go shopping for the reopening. A hot summer is approaching. You need some bright and trendy outfits. It will support our economy. That’s a good thing, too.
Back to work
Remote work is one of the merits of COVID. It doesn’t only benefit employees, but employers, too. One hospital recently terminated its downtown office lease and all employees are now working at home. Guess how much money it saves? $2 million.
Most big companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have learned that remote work makes employees happier, especially for those who have family responsibilities. Amazon was not thrilled about remote work at first, and tried to push for employees to come back. It has reconsidered its policy since then, and required employees to work in-office only two days a week, instead of five.
Google asks its employees to work in the office three days a week.
Some smaller companies might not desire remote work due to lack of collaboration and supervision on their employees. The pandemic has pushed us to be more flexible with employees’ specific needs. The Northwest Asian Weekly has done just that in the last 15 months.
Back to school
I have a different view on going back to the classroom. Reflecting on my college years, I relished those classroom experiences, as well as after-class social interactions. My chats with my classmates at the University of Washington HUB (student union building) and the libraries for our study groups were fun and memorable. Some of those guest speakers on campus were magnificent, such as Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. It won’t be the same to hear them through Zoom. The energy and dialogue in the room were empowering. During the past year, I was not enthused with Zoom talks, no matter how good the speaker was. I confess that I hate Zoom meetings. Too intense and too much rigid sitting. I never felt quite right being in them.
So students, if you are vaccinated, push for face-to-face classes in your school. It’s an education you will never get from books and being online.
Don’t rush it
I miss all my friends, businesses, community, and close friends. The tendency for us now is to make lunch and dinner dates with those people in July that we have been postponing during the pandemic.
We need to remember that the pandemic is not over yet. Only 68% (45.3% have at least 1 dose) of the U.S. population, and 70% of Seattleites have been inoculated. That’s great news. There is still a chance for those who have been vaccinated to get COVID-19, with asymptomatic or minor symptoms. We have to be careful to protect ourselves and your friends, too.
Don’t overbook. Do it slowly. Try it out once a week with only a small group of friends in July, and then increase it in August. There is no hurry to get back to your pre-pandemic social calendar.
Enjoy your summer!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.