A touch of "pandemic fatigue"

Back in March, when the Covid-19 virus had barely begun to infect and kill people in the U.S. and most of the world, the state of California imposed strict preventive measures that, for a while, seemed effective and were embraced by the citizenry. Ten months later the epidemic has returned to California with a vengeance, and the reason, some experts suggest, is “pandemic fatigue.” 

Californians, originally eager to don facemasks, stay a safe distance apart from each other and go through sanitizing gel by the quart, are now just fed up with the pandemic routines. Their frustration, and that felt by most of the country, is particularly understandable given that even as vaccines become available, a light at the end of this tunnel is not yet in sight. In fact, experts keep warning that the worst is yet to come. 

Coffee shop at La Comer supermarket,
adjusted for the pandemic. 

Barely two weeks after I published a post arguing for optimism in the new year, I confess that I too have come down with a case of pandemic fatigue. How long can this weirdness of constant temperature checking, closed restaurants and churches, dousing with sanitizing gel at every turn, and avoiding seeing friends, go on? 

My tipping point may have come, ironically, during a Christmas Eve service, a normally joyous occasion of short Scripture readings related to the the birth of Jesus, each followed by traditional Christmas carols, and then much hand-shaking, embracing, holiday greetings, and sharing of pastries. Many congregants would pair off for brunch afterward. 

Under strict Covid-19 preventive measures imposed by local government, the occasion this year felt as somber as a memorial service, despite the valiant efforts by one the leaders of our church to push ahead with a semblance of a normal Christmas Eve celebration. The service was held outdoors in her beautiful backyard, with the 12 or 15 people in attendance, scattered about on folding chairs, wearing face masks. We were told there would be no singing, which I guess tends to spread the dreaded virus, or loitering about afterward for coffee, pastries or gossiping. 

Praise God, al fresco version. 

Stew, who normally doesn’t react much to church services one way or another, got up immediately after the final blessing and left in a huff. What sort of Christmas Eve service is that?, he muttered. All I could say was that it’s about the best we could manage under the circumstances. 

In fact, if medals were awarded for effort, our church would get one, for first, hosting prerecorded services on Facebook, and then, a few Sundays ago, launching an additional al fresco liturgy, I suspect to satisfy people like Stew and I who are allergic to Zoom, FaceTime and other “virtual” substitutes for personal interaction. 

Surprisingly for a small Mexican town like San Miguel, local officials initially reacted to news of a pandemic as swiftly and decisively as their California counterparts. The Good Friday procession was cancelled, and churches closed, along with almost all commercial establishments except for grocery stores and pharmacies. 

Video cameras in the town square broadcast images that made it look as if a neutron bomb had gone off. Compliance with vague government orders to, in effect, for everyone to go home and lock the door was swift and almost complete. 

But after a while, San Miguelenses, particularly those who rely on the tourist and entertainment industries for their livelihood, have grown restless, beginning with our housekeeper whose husband made a decent living as a waiter at Harry’s, a tourist and expat hangout. She told me that if the city imposes any more pandemic-related restrictions, Hank’s manager has threatened to just close down the joint and fuggetaboutit until the middle of this year, if then. 

Stew and I are not about to abandon Sunday church services, constricted as they have become, or embrace nihilist Trumpist notions that the pandemic is a hoax, that real men don’t wear face masks, or illusions that Covid-19 infections affect only someone else. On the contrary, as news of friends and acquaintances getting hit by the virus reaches us, our determination to play it very safe, if anything, has hardened. 

And so is our gratitude to be facing this crisis in San Miguel, with its relentlessly beautiful climate, that allows us to step outside and on the spur of the moment, go for a walk with the dogs and blow off any cobwebs of resentment and self-pity that may be accumulating inside our heads. There are also many restaurants—let’s thank San Miguel’s climate again—that offer safe outdoor seating and opportunity to get out of the house, and even meet with a friend or two.

If you have any doubts about our good fortune, even amidst a deadly pandemic, just play the following video I just received from my friend Jennifer Hamilton, of the New Year’s Eve fireworks display on the Jardín, San Miguel’s central square, with the bells of the Parroquia pealing madly in the background. 

True, the usual crowds of revelers are missing, but there was still plenty to celebrate. 

Here it goes, and Happy New Year:  https://youtu.be/jEp5cT9bWaw

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