Almost three years after The Big Lockdown, I’m back on the inside.
This time I’m not trying to avoid getting COVID; I’m trying not to spread it. Having dodged the virus this long, I thought pandemic ways were behind me. When I started to sniffle, I blamed it on my friend’s cat. The furry gray rescue always stirs my allergies. Still, wanting to be a responsible wife, mother, friend, neighbor and regular on the 1, 2, and 3 trains, I tested. And tested. And tested a third time before I believed the positive red line on each wasn’t a mistake. What to do now?
Of course, a lot has changed since 2020. Back then some in my Lower Manhattan co-op suggested giving fines to anyone who didn’t follow the board’s new protocols such as masking in public areas. Some wanted to be alerted when a neighbor was infected. Fears were calmed as COVID antibodies proliferated and COVID fatigue spread. Over time, shareholders were seeking — and finding— a renewed level of trust in each other. More than the policies posted throughout the building, we were relying on each other to be responsible and act in everyone’s best interest.
That didn’t mean everyone was happy about it. Our newest, youngest shareholder, for whom no rule was enough, sold his unit and moved away. But by the end of Year 2, when the last of the signs depicting a sad masked face were peeled off our front door, lobby walls and the elevator panels, we returned to the pre-pandemic ethic of good will and managing our own risks. Today, some shareholders still take the fire stairs instead of the elevator. Some still mask in public spaces. Some are vaccinated, some are not. Some are boosted, some are not. For the most part, we’ve stopped talking about it.
And then I tested positive.
Thankfully for most people, myself included, the virus is now less aggressive. While I’m no more congested than when I’m in the same room as that cat, I knew I posed a risk to others who might suffer a far worse reaction to the virus. That meant I needed to isolate, so I squirreled myself away in the den to protect my husband and everyone else. Just as in 2020, I flicked on the television and searched for my pandemic companions: British detectives, spies and soldiers. At the same time, I looked up the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention for the latest guidance. According to the CDC, I could safely isolate outdoors as long as I wore a high-quality mask. I still had plenty of those in the storage room on the COVID-19 shelf next to dusty boxes of latex-free gloves, disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, decongestants, a thermometer, a pulse oximeter and just-in-case-the-stores-run-out-again toilet paper, paper towels and cans of chicken noodle soup.
The familiar opening notes of my 2020 favorite television drama, “Foyle’s War,” sealed the deal. No, I said to absolutely no one, this time is going to be different. The sun was shining. The temperature was cool but not cold. I didn’t want to help fictional Brits solve murders. I wanted to go outside. If it’s OK with the CDC, then I was determined to spend part of my five to 10 days of isolation bundled up, double-high-quality masked up, walking in Hudson River Park.
The first hurdle was getting out of the building undetected by my neighbors. I knew I wasn’t putting anyone at risk, but the fears and suspicions that accompanied the first lockdown weighed on me. In my building, if the gossip machine hadn’t already alerted everyone that I’d contracted COVID-19, seeing me double-masked in the lobby would be a giveaway. After all we’d been through as a community, I didn’t want anyone to mistakenly think I was being careless. I didn’t want to be marked lousy.
Rather than take the elevator, I went down the fire stairwell, calling out first to make sure no one was inside. Then I scampered through the lobby and headed for the front door. Almost home free, I reached for the handle only to find the door already opening from the other side. A fellow shareholder was coming in. She had been one of the more vocal proponents for keeping restrictions in place. I held my breath as she paused a beat to look at my double masks. Then, instead of stepping far back and glaring or, worse, questioning my judgment, my neighbor held the door for me and smiled as I passed. “Feel better,” she said.