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My Turn

by Dmae Lo Roberts

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #3 (March 1, 2021), pages 6 & 7.

The new normal

Itís hard to believe itís been nearly a year since rigorous handwashing, sanitizing, quarantining, and mask-wearing began. Iíve been more restless at home recently, especially since Februaryís snow and ice. Other times when Iíve felt a bit of cabin fever, I just walked outside, especially when there was sunshine. But with the slippery ice, it felt unsafe, so I stayed indoors. Luckily, we didnít lose power like those who were without electricity for many days or, for some, more than a week. Many thought, "What more do we have to deal with during this pandemic?"

About 8.4% of Oregonians are fully vaccinated so far, with about 15.0% having received at least a first dose. In Washington state, 7.6% are fully inoculated, with 14.9% having received a first dose. Oregon governor Brown recently announced some public schools will re-open. Along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health Authority, the governor is urging everyone to continue to wear face coverings, maintain social distance, and wash their hands regardless of their vaccination status.

Like many people, I wonder when it will be my turn to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. It seems like a lot of us are not in the first few priority groups. Until more vaccines doses are produced and distributed, we must remain patient.

I understand why healthcare workers, emergency service providers, and first responders were vaccinated first. As of March 1, 2021, vaccine slots for people 65 years and older opened up (those age 80 and older were eligible February 8, 75+ on February 15, and 70+ on February 22). I visited the Oregon Health Authorityís COVID vaccine website, <>, to learn more. In addition to information about vaccine safety and effectiveness, the sequencing plan, frequently asked questions, and a chart listing how many doses have been allocated, I found a form to determine my eligibility.

Some of the questions were:

1. Do you live, work, or volunteer in a healthcare setting?

2. Are you a last responder (e.g., state or medical examiner, autopsy technician, forensic administrator, forensic anthropologist, medical-legal death investigator, mortician, funeral home worker, etc.)?

3. Do you have a medical condition or disability and require an outside healthcare professional or direct care personnel to deliver in-home services in your home?

4. Do you work or volunteer as an emergency medical services (EMS) provider or first responder?

5. Do you work or volunteer in a correctional setting?

6. Do you work in an early learning or childcare setting?

7. Do you work at a public or private K-12 school?

8. What is your date of birth?

I answered "no" to questions 1 through 7 and entered my birthday. I was declared ineligible and received a message to stay tuned for news and updates.

A bit of a silver lining was announced in February, though, when President Joe Biden said that nearly every American should be able to receive a vaccination by the end of July. "Okay, I can wait until then," I thought.

I began dreaming about possible short trips I could plan. How lovely would it be to have a little late summer travel? I miss the excitement of getting into the car and driving to the Oregon Coast. I reminisced about the calm of breathing salty sea air and walking on the beach.

Last summer my husband and I took a day trip to Hood River. Itís always been a fun daytime outing for us in the past. This time, however, it felt fraught with caution. We ate lunch outside and only removed our masks to take a bite. I worried when someone coughed or walked nearby. We drove part of the "Fruit Loop" ó a 35-mile scenic drive of local farms with produce stands ó but this time it had lost its allure. We used to love sampling different fruit before buying some to take home; this time, we worried about being around other people so we just went home.

At a town hall held last month, President Biden mentioned we might possibly be back to normal by Christmas 2021. That offers some hope. Though new coronavirus case counts and deaths are on a downward trend, and more vaccines are being administered, experts believe it could take more than a year to reach herd immunity. Thereís also concern about variants of the virus (South Africa, U.K., New York, California, etc.), which are spreading. And what exactly does normal mean? Can life ever be "normal" again?

We are forever changed as a society. For small businesses, families with children, the elderly, the unhoused, students, and others, the pandemic has been devastating. Many people have lost loved ones to this disease. Others are still struggling to overcome long-term health issues caused by COVID-19.

But there are some things weíve put into practice that I hope weíll keep. Iíve always thought people rarely took cold and flu season seriously. It might be a good thing to continue the precautions we adopted during the pandemic. Shouldnít we all be washing our hands more often? Couldnít all restaurants and stores make it a regular practice to provide hand sanitizer? Why not wear masks at public events indoors? Discontinuing handshakes is a good idea. If school-age children become sick, they should not be penalized by missing class and instead be able to learn from home. And if someone has a cold, and they cannot afford to stay home, it should be mandatory that they wear a mask to protect others. For the good of everyone.

Before the pandemic, I began wearing a mask when on an airplane because I got tired of getting sick every time I returned home from a trip. Wearing a mask aboard a plane kept me healthy. Iíll never look at travel or being around people the same way ever again. For me, taking safety precautions will continue. That will be my new normal.

To learn more about vaccinations in Oregon, visit <>. In Washington state, visit <>. Portions of the websites are available in other languages, such as Arabic, Burmese, Dari, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Hmong, Korean, Lao, Marshallese, Pashto, Thai, Vietnamese, and others. More options to help eligible people register for a vaccination are opening up, including <>. For updates, please visit <>.

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