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I get it. We are all tired of COVID restrictions, mandates, back-and-forth confusing information, and unreliable recommendations. We all have COVID fatigue- too much information, it's hard to know who to trust out there, conspiracy theories abound, hot-and-cold mandates, numbers not adding up, and of course- the deaths and long-term disabilities many of us have had in our lives because of this virus. But we need to keep on keepin' on- because this is far from over. Sigh. Everywhere I go, I see maskless people. I see people gathering, traveling, getting "back to normal", despite the risks. It's maddening, because I have spent months doing research and all these actions are premature, ill advised, and actually dangerous. Let me tell you what I know after months of research.

1. Vaccines are designed to keep you from dying if you are infected. That's it. They are not designed to limit spread of the virus, keep you from getting it or spreading it to others. Stopping the spread tools include isolation (work from home, deliveries, etc), masking (all the time outside the home), and social distancing (still 6 feet!) is for. So conflating vaccine status with whether or not you can wear a mask is a STUPID message (thanks CDC and NIH for troublesome messaging!). 2. When the mask mandates were lifted earlier this year, the infection, death, and hospitalization rates were twice what they were in lockdown the same time last year (that's right DOUBLE), yet all the media could broadcast was how the numbers were going down. (They were down from a horrible holiday spike, but down overall- NO.) They were deliberately misleading people.

3. When the CDC changed the quarantine recommendations from 10 days and testing to 5 days and symptoms, they did that for employers- not for public health. It is a messed up policy and not prudent at all. The science says you ca spread at least to 10 days and they know in some cases up to 14. Getting back to work or school before then is potentially spreading the virus, allowing it to mutate into something worse, and hurting people. And the government does not really care- they prioritize the economy over human lives.

4. Anthony Fauci used deliberately confusing language this week when he said we were "not in a pandemic phase right now". The fact is, numbers are starting to jump up again, we have little to no public health measures in place and people living in the US are pretty much on their own and at the mercy of their employers. It's horrible, unethical, and that's where we are.

5. The people equating vaccination mandates with being oppressed are using offensive language. I had someone tell me that because I required full vaccination from people joining my in-person herbalism class that I was discriminating against the unvaccinated and violating civil rights. This made me so angry, because people of color, indigenous people, and queer people have fought long and hard to improve the system under which they live and to co-opt civil liberties language for a voluntary health choice is just plain offensive and inaccurate. I am calling bullshit on that.

6. One in three people (that's a lot!) infected with COVID (even the mild cases) are getting "long COVID". Some symptoms are neurological (tremors, brain fog), some cardiovascular (clots, strokes), some are organ failure- particularly the kidneys. Don't think COVID is no big deal. You do not want this, even if you get over a flu-like illness you could be saddled with a long-term disability over time. As I told folks in my webinar on COVID in March, people don't remember what Polio was like- for most, it was a weekend of diarrhea. What we remember is "long Polio"- being confined to a wheelchair or an iron lung. We have not yet had enough data or time pass to know how bad this is going to get, but frankly- I'd rather not have intimate knowledge!

If you choose to go unvaccinated, you may lose opportunities like my herb class. I have every right to protect my students and their families from COVID with this requirement. If you choose to avoid the shot, you are choosing to miss out on safe opportunities out and about.

Being unvaccinated against COVID-19 is a personal choice and ALL personal choices have ramifications. Please refrain from using language about civil liberties when talking about vaccination status. Don't be that clueless person.

So what can we do as thoughtful concerned people who want to stay safe and keep our communities safe? Some of us may be able to reduce risk and I am outlining possibilities here, knowing full well economics affect us all and some may not be able to do a lot of these. 1. Vaccination: If you have the ability to do so safely, get vaccinated and boosted. Statistically, it means you have a higher chance of surviving an infection and not needing hospitalization if you catch it. Get an mRNA vaccine, not the Johnson and Johnson one. They are more effective and last longer. Get boosted when you are eligible.

2. Gatherings. Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, period. This includes outdoor sprts events or gatherings in the park. Avoid indoor gatherings when at all possible. This means no going to the movies (breathing recycled air for 2-3 hours? no thanks!), restaurants, lots of fun things. I know it sucks. I'm avoiding these things, too.

3. When you must be with others (grocery shopping, school, work, etc)- WEAR an N95 or P100 mask. Not a surgical or cloth mask. Make sure it is snug with no gaps anywhere. N95s only last 5 hours amongst the maskless crowds, so make sure you bring a change of mask with you and change it after 5 hours.

4. Try and find ways to avoid exposures. Can you homeschool your kid(s)? Can you use grocery apps and pickups instead of going inside? Can you add to your streaming budget and avoid unsafe movie theaters? Can you work from home part or all of the time?

5. Communication. One thing I have realized is that everyone who takes COVID seriously THINKS that they are being safe and want to stay safe- so instead of asking if someone is "being safe", ask about specific behaviors instead (like the ones mentioned above). The people in my family's pod have all agreed to mask whenever in public and be vaccinated. But even that is not enough! So many people have COVID fatigue that they are getting sloppy and eating at restaurants, going to movies, forgetting their masks at times, and booking vacations. If anyone you know who you see regularly is doing those things, chances are, they are not safe to be around. I know it sucks. I know it is affecting our mental health (we aren't meant to live this way!). But it means survival. Please take care. I wish you health and happiness.

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