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Our mask mandate is ending, but for some, uncertainty begins

The Mecklenburg County mask mandate will soon be history, and I, for one, could not be happier.

That may surprise those who know me best – those who know that I live with leukemia, a form of blood cancer.

That’s right; I got my diagnosis in March 2020, just as the pandemic arrived in North Carolina. I had gone to New York that month for medical testing, preparing to donate bone marrow for my brother, who had lived for years with a different form of blood cancer. But instead of providing the lifesaving assistance he needed, I came away with a diagnosis of my own.

Two months later, I watched my beloved brother die, even as New York hospital beds quickly overflowed with priority Covid-19 patients, which robbed others of lifesaving treatments.

Still, I am happy to see the mask mandate go, though for me, the idea of living among maskless strangers is somewhat unnerving.

It took three shots before my blood showed even the first sign of Covid-19 immunity, and now I read that a second booster may be required much faster than I had hoped.

To keep this cancer at bay, my hematologist prescribed chemotherapy pills, twice a day…and I’ll need to take those pills for as long as I live, he has said.

I count myself blessed. I feel strong and healthy, and the pills are working. To keep my body and immune system strong, I take brisk, five-mile walks from my home through uptown Charlotte. (Some of you have seen me and given me shoutouts and waves.)

I love this town and its people, but the other day, as county commissioners were discussing whether to end the mask mandate, I found myself feeling sad and angry. Sad because too many of the people who spoke in support of ending the mandate showed little appreciation for the complexity of that decision. Angry because too many others, rude and ill-mannered, seemed not to care.

In Becker’s Hospital Review, writers Molly Gamble and Erica Carbajal called it Covid privilege — the privilege of being healthy.

“So as most of society eagerly awaits the point when they can ditch their masks and return to at least some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, many immunocompromised people must hunker down even more as layers of protection are peeled back,” they wrote.

I get it. I don’t expect (or want) society to permanently remake itself to accommodate my health concerns, but am I wrong to desire a modicum of neighborly consideration, even as you rightly push for an end to the mandates?

Commissioner Elaine Powell was right when she said nobody in this community is “drunk with the power of a mask mandate.” Even those of us who face health challenges are delighted to see our neighbors set free. We want to see our restaurants and theaters full again. We want to see small children in schools, flashing their gapped-toothed smiles. We want our economy running strong and healthy.

As Commissioner Pat Cotham said so well, Covid-19 has changed us all, and we must all acknowledge how difficult the past two years have been. “Too many people have had to tell their health problems to strangers,” she said.

I know in my soul that our mask mandate saved many lives, especially lives in Black communities where health and economic disparities are great. But we can’t live behind our masks forever, a fact that governments worldwide are now accepting.

So, come Feb. 26, I’ll cheer as loudly as anyone when our mask mandate is brought to a close. But for me and countless others, that’s also the date when life in Mecklenburg County becomes a bit more uncertain.

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