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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Depending On The Kindness Of Strangers (COVID-19 Version)

Even as coronavirus restrictions are loosened, health officials still recommend wearing face masks, maintaining distance from others and washing hands frequently.
Erin Keever
Even as coronavirus restrictions are loosened, health officials still recommend wearing face masks, maintaining distance from others and washing hands frequently.

For almost a year we’ve been struggling against the bonds of COVID-19, like the hero of a movie tied to a chair. Now the knots are finally starting to loosen.

Gov. Roy Cooper has eased some restrictions on going out in North Carolina. Starting last Friday, bars can serve drinks two hours later. People can gather in larger numbers at places like movie theaters, museums and parks. Sports teams can also sell tickets in limited numbers. Now Charlotte Hornets fans can see rookie star LaMelo Ball do his magic act live and in person.

This is all good news. It’s happening because the curve of COVID-19 cases is finally turning downward. The state is having fewer cases day to day, and more people leaving the hospital. You can feel the load start to lift from our shoulders.

But we have to take the virus as seriously here at the end as we did at the beginning. And that’s where I start to worry.

A few days ago, we decided to take a quick day trip. It had been wet and miserable for days and we were stir-crazy. So we drove down to Waxhaw, with its nice little downtown of antiques and ice cream shops.

It got crowded fast.

Some people were trying to give one another space, but others didn’t seem to think about it or care. At one point I was crouched down in front of a counter, looking at some old baseball gloves, and a guy came right up over my shoulder to browse the same spot. It was like I was the catcher and he was the umpire. Way too close for comfort.

A little while later, I ducked into another place to grab some takeout for lunch. Everybody was crowded together at the counter to order, and there was nowhere to wait that wasn’t on top of somebody else.

The good news is that all the indoor places required masks. The bad news is that about a quarter of the people out on the street weren’t wearing them, even though you couldn’t walk on the sidewalks without passing close to people coming the other way.

Even with smaller crowds at the movie theater or the ball game, there are obvious choke points – the ticket line, the concession stands, the aisles, the restrooms. It’s hard to see how venues will have enough people to police all those places.

That leaves it up to us. I don’t have a lot of confidence in us right now.

It’s not even that people are defying the rules, although of course some are. It’s just so easy to forget. You get back into the rhythm of shopping or watching a game or whatever, and all of a sudden you’re six inches away from somebody when you’re supposed to be six feet.

I’m dying to go to a game or see a concert or hang out at a bar. But I think our house is going to hold out a while longer, until we have a better sense that we can trust others to act safely. And that they can trust us.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.