As we transition out of the coronavirus pandemic, many changes are welcome. And yet others are nearly as awkward as when we entered it. The new freedom is certainly uncertain: we don’t know the lifespan of the vaccine’s efficacy, and we hear about new strains of the virus cropping up.

Taking our masks off feels like treading on a newly frozen lake, with each step testing the ice.

After Dane County ended all COVID-19 advisories, the Waunakee Rotary Club held its first meeting in person in nearly 15 months. I hugged some of my fellow members whom I had not seen or spoken to since 2020, but have known for more than 20 years. It was only the second time I had been in an indoor, large group setting in over a year.

The club begins some meetings with a song, and as I watched the community of Waunakee Rotary come together vocally, it seemed as though we had gathered after returning from a war. I was grateful we survived.

I still haven’t figured out my own masking protocol when out and about. Outdoors, at least here in Wisconsin, taking it off seems OK. Just days after the mandate was lifted, I was on autopilot as I masked up before entering one store then realized I was the only customer wearing one. At another store, some were masked, others not. Perhaps erring on the side of caution is best. We made it this far, after all, and we don’t know if the ice might crack. Besides, I still feel a little self-conscious barefaced among strangers.

At some point last year, a public health expert talked about the lessons in hygiene we had learned through the pandemic. We relearned how to wash our hands and became conscious of germs. If we retain those habits, we’ll see far fewer influenza and common colds. Hopefully, we can all take away some value from the past 15 months and carry it into the future. And hopefully, this past year has reinforced other assets as well, like patience, kindness and flexibility.

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