Full disclosure: I’m finding it challenging to give any gravity to something called “monkeypox.” It sounds like a vintage video game, like “Donkey Kong,” and I half-expect the symptoms to include an uncontrollable urge for a banana. I don’t want to think about monkeys being anything that carry a nasty Pox that apparently can do some pretty ugly damage to those who contract it.
Says the Associated Press: “Monkeypox typically begins with a flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, followed by a rash on the face and body. In Africa, people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, and it does not usually spread easily among people.”
At least there’s that. I shouldn’t be glib about it. We’re starting to hear the vague warnings that we had better prepare ourselves for all things monkey and/or pox. Get our go-bags packed up and ready to go. The second coming of the vicious gangs of murder hornets that were supposed to descend on us two summers ago. But didn’t.
A public buffeted by COVID guidance, mandates, warnings, cautioned – however well-intentioned and however accurate – looks to be generally done with it. Otsego County has seen an increase in the number of cases of late, enough so that we’re currently in the CDC’s “high” community level designation, so the CDC recommends that we “wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status.”
A random, non-scientific walk around Cooperstown and Oneonta, though, finds that compliance with that red-level recommendation is pretty much hit-or-miss these days, a mandate-weary public mostly choosing to roll the dice. Some follow it, some don’t. Some stores and restaurants have signs up – recommending, asking – others do not.
Indefatigable Otsego County Health Director Heidi Bond said last week that it’s a challenge to convey a cautionary message when so many people locally, nationally, and globally have put the pandemic behind them. “We’re following the CDC recommendation and urging people to wear a mask indoors, get vaccinated or boosted, but it’s a general recommendation,” she said. “I don’t think there will be a mask mandate coming back.”
Even New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett (side note: Dr. Bassett, you really should come to Cooperstown for a photo op at our similarly-named hospital, I mean, come on!) is walking an appropriately precautionary line in the state’s latest string of public service announcements. Look at the COVID reports like we look at the weather. Check the situation. Act accordingly. Prepare with a vaccine or booster. But she’s not demanding anything.
Heaven help any public official calling for a return to a mask mandate or economic shutdown – concerns over transmission notwithstanding. Even New York City Mayor Eric Adams – rumored to be considering a run for president in 2024 – said last week in The New York Times, “If every variant that comes, we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking, we’re not going to function as a city.”
Mayor Adams’s admonition is well-taken, particular as ‘every variant that comes’ rocks the boat in a different way. The one that pushed Otsego County into the CDC’s danger zone looks to be Omicron variant BA 12.1.2, although Ms. Bond said last week that the uptick in positive cases includes an increase in BA 12.1.1. It’s all starting to sound like those annoying software or operating system updates that seem to invade our computers just as we’re up against a deadline. “Time for Microsoft Office 46.6.3(A),” even though we could’ve sworn we had just updated a week ago to version 46.5.3. Maybe the namers of the virus are worried they’ll run out of Greek vowels before they run out of numbers.
Or maybe nomenclature no longer means anything at all – we’ll all just wander around believing we’re inevitably vulnerable to whatever they’re calling COVID this week and do what we must to muscle through it.
As for the whole monkeypox thing: I’m going to do my level best to avoid bites from small rodents and not agitate the primates. And if I go to the zoo, I’ll wear a mask.