California is reopening, but I fear for the unvaccinated. – Los Angeles Times

I wish I could say I was fully open to California’s full reopening on Tuesday.

Instead, I approach it with some trepidation — no doubt in part due to undissipated fear I built up during the pandemic’s darkest days.

Now, summer’s on its way, the future seems sunnier and I’m beginning to delight, like so many others, in my vaccinated freedoms. I had a wonderful unmasked brunch with vaccinated friends on the front porch of a restaurant last weekend. We hugged. Our waiter was vaccinated. I didn’t feel a moment of angst.

But I’m fearful for the people who haven’t gotten their shots. For the ones who still face access issues. For the ones who think they are invulnerable. For the ones who refuse to get them, who distrust them and who distrust the scientists who tell them how much the benefits outweigh any risks.

Even for the ones who never believed we really had a pandemic at all, who refused to wear masks to help protect all of us as our case numbers soared and our emergency rooms filled up. For the ones who actually say that nearly 600,000 deaths nationwide from COVID-19 isn’t much if you think about it in terms of percentages (rather than in grandparents, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives).

I’m afraid that some unvaccinated people who have been careful until now will want to relax with the rest of us and let their guards and masks down. I’m afraid some of the disbelievers will ignore the guidance in various public settings to wear masks if unvaccinated and will blend in unmasked with everyone else, putting themselves and others at risk.

A girl is lifted up by her parents while walking along a lake

Astrid Yanez gets a lift from her parents, Ismael and Lizeth, as her brother Daniel walks beside them at Boyle Heights’ Hollenbeck Park in January.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

I have fears of my own about questions scientists cannot yet answer with certainty — though not about getting the vaccines. I jumped without hesitation at the first chance to get mine. But I still worry, for instance, about whether there’s even the slightest risk that I could carry the virus and pass it on to someone unprotected.

That worry is particularly strong as I prepare to fly to the East Coast again, on a plane that is sure to be jam-packed, to take care of my increasingly fragile mother-in-law, who is in hospice at home and has not received the shots. She’s weak, and taking her to get vaccinated would be an ordeal for her. We haven’t been able to get her vaccinated at home. And while no amount of care can spare her all discomfort right now, keeping her COVID-clear for the rest of her life is something we want very much to do.

I told you before about how masks went up and down constantly on my recent travels back and forth across the country as people ate and drank on the crowded flights and in the crowded airports. No one gets checked along the way to see if they’re vaccinated or COVID-free and safe to travel. I broke out my KN95 masks for the trips but still felt nervous. I had no way of knowing the personal health choices made by those sitting and standing so uncomfortably close to me.

I’m worried about all the unvaccinated people who are traveling this summer. I’m worried about their vulnerability to the virus and its variants.

People wearing mask check in at a Delta counter at the airport

Travelers check in for their flights at LAX in May.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

I don’t have to leave my own block to come in contact with the unprotected. A neighbor across the street refuses to get the shots and counters criticism with wacky internet scare stories. At least he wears a mask when he’s out. A couple of other neighbors never masked up and always stood too close to others and still do — sometimes as they voice their general disdain for all things government.

I try to communicate with three people many years older than me who live around the corner but like to walk up and down my street daily. The Armenian woman who doesn’t speak English still puts her hand on her heart when she sees me for the homemade cookies I gave her at Christmas, but when I mime a shot in the arm to ask if she’s gotten hers, she shakes her head vigorously, no.

I get a similar reaction from a Ukrainian husband and wife who always stop to pet my dog. We’ve communicated many things through mimes and smiles over the years. But when I mime the shot and they shake their heads and then I say please and hold my hands in prayer, the head-shaking only gets more emphatic. I wonder if anyone who speaks Russian has reached out to them, also in an effort to convince them.

California’s COVID news mostly is very heartening right now. We’ve reached the lowest levels of new cases in 14 months. Our infection rate is among the lowest in the nation, our vaccination rates among the highest.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that. I just want the good news to last.

A woman wearing a mask flexes her bicep

Sibelle Yuksek shows off after getting first dose of a COVID vaccine at a new inoculation site at Union Station on Tuesday.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

And so I keep thinking less about the good news that 55.9% of Californians have received at least one dose of a vaccine (and that 46.3% of that total is fully vaccinated) than on the flip side of that statistic, which shows we still have work to do. For a while, we had real momentum. People were in a rush to get vaccinated and we sometimes couldn’t keep up. Now we can, but the daily number of Californians getting vaccines has plummeted.

Are you like me? Do you encounter people daily who refuse to get vaccinated and thus protect themselves and others and the wide-open state we’re about to get back? Even if we don’t speak their language, literally or figuratively, I think we should try to convince the holdouts to roll up their sleeves. I think we owe it to one another and to our state’s future safety at least to give it our best shot.