AISLE FIVE – The price of a dozen eggs is about what I paid for my first car. Don’t buy bananas or bread. You can’t afford them. Check out the Alpo display. But can you afford a face mask? Apparently not because I am the only one in the store wearing such gear. Back in the terror stricken days of 2020 everyone wore a mask. Today only hospitals require them. Why this change? Because the pandemic is over! Covid-19 has gone to the dust bin of history along with Mexico will pay for the wall. We know this   end to a terrible time is because President Joe Biden said so and The New York Times agreed. 

It’s about time. If you will recall on Jan. 6, 2020, The Times first reported on a mysterious “pneumonia-like illness” that sickened 59 people in Wuhan, China. Symptoms included high fever, trouble breathing and lung lesions, but Chinese health officials said there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. Two days later, Chinese scientists identified the source of the new disease: a previously unidentified coronavirus. Within weeks, the pathogen was sickening scores of people in Wuhan, and China took the drastic step of locking down the city, effectively sealing off its 11 million inhabitants. Then all hell broke loose. Pro sports teams worldwide suspended their seasons. Stocks plunged. The World Health Organization, or WHO, declared the virus a pandemic. By early April tourist sites were empty, NYC became a ghost town. Authorities ordered four billion people — roughly half of humanity — to stay home.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Times, “If you look at the very beginning, we found ourselves in — at least in our memory — the unprecedented situation of the evolution of what would turn out to be one of the most devastating pandemics in more than a century.” He blamed part of the problem because Chinese authorities didn’t tell the rest of the world what was actually going on. Even today there is a debate on whether the disease was an accident in a Chinese lab or whether it came from raw rat meat in a market. Some weirdos even speculated what it was a deliberate effort by the Chinese to poison the world. 

As the pandemic raged, predictably in this country, at least, it became a conservative-versus-liberal (or progressive) debate. The right wing poo-pooed the alarm as alarmist. “Those vaccinations can kill you!” they cried. President Donald Trump called Covid-19 “a Democratic hoax,” although he and his current wife secretly got vaccinated and it only came out months later. Tucker Carlson on Fox News spent an entire program blasting Dr. Fauci and his warnings. Here in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all state institutions, including our public universities, to stop mandating masks on campus. 

This had to be one of the stupidest arguments in the nation’s history. Poll after poll showed that the overwhelming number of anti-vaxxers were Republicans, most with only a high school education. One Houston hospital noted that 99 percent of its Covid-19 patients were un-vaccinated. The number of anti-vaxxers is growing smaller, and no wonder. One example among many: Phil Valentine, a conservative radio host in Tennessee kept telling his listeners to avoid vaccinations and there was no need to wear a mask. Then he died battling Covid-19. Here in Houston, an anti-vaxxer doctor at Houston Methodist Hospital, Mary Talley Bowden, was suspended from her provisional hospital privileges in late 2021. The hospital said she was "spreading dangerous misinformation which is not based in science." She resigned, then sued Methodist. A judge threw out the case. 

But rejoice, the pandemic is over! Well, sort of. According to WHO worldwide there have been 754,018,841 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 6,817,478 deaths, reported, as of Jan. 31, 2023. In the U.S., we’ve had 100,941,827 confirmed cases and 1,097,246 deaths. Just in Texas there have been 8,153,335 confirmed cases and 90,366 deaths, while Harris County has counted 1,262,246 confirmed cases and 11,547   deaths, but it’s early in the day.

People have pandemic fatigue. We are tired of keeping 6-feet apart, particularly during sex. Gov.

Abbott, you got your wish. No one is wearing masks anymore. Those 90,366 Texans aren’t really dead, they just keep voting for you. On Jan. 30, President Biden announced that he will end both the national emergency and the public health emergency declarations on May 11, 2023. Biden’s announcement came on the very same day that WHO said it still considers the Covid-19 pandemic to be “a public health emergency of international concern.” The WHO’s advisory committee noted that although the pandemic is at a turning point, “Covid-19 remains a dangerous infectious disease with the capacity to cause substantial damage to health and health systems.” To make it official, on March 2, 2020, The New York Times started a newsletter to keep readers informed about the global outbreak. Now that Covid-19 is no more, the newsletter has been dropped. (Incidentally, do you spell it Covid-19 or COVID -19?)

The European Union no longer recommends masks be worn at airports and on planes. In Asia, masks are falling. South Korea just dropped wearing masks indoors. Japan has dropped masking outdoors and is about to stop requiring them indoors. Later this month Taiwan plans to no longer require masks at all. Then there is China whose leaders ordered such draconian steps, like not leaving your house, that there were literally riots in the streets. The lockdown was dropped.

Little by little, worldwide the mask attack has been defeated. And back here on Aisle Five I am all alone in Maskville, because I wear a mask at all times, which makes smoking a cigar a bit of an effort. Other customers in restaurants wonder why I sip my penot gregio through a straw. If I jogged, I’d be wearing a haz-mat suit. You can’t be too careful. “Who was that masked man?” you ask. It’s me, the Lone Stranger.

Ashby is vaccinated at [email protected]  

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