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NYT Decided to Waste Time on a Gender Neutral Couple Still Wearing Masks

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

COVID is over, but The New York Times decided to base this lengthy piece about “the last holdout” on some gender-neutral couple who still mask up and feel the pressure of the pandemic as normal people move on with their lives. The couple’s board game group’s patience is wearing thin, as “Mx. Cherry” remains someone who wants to live in fear of a virus with a 99-plus percent survival rate. Now, I will be fair here: most of people the Times interviewed are at risk of contracting a bad case of COVID-19 due to pre-existing conditions. That is not, however, the case for most Americans. Most Americans are not immuno-compromised or have severe asthma, conditions for which I can understand one’s hesitancy to venture out and not wear a mask. And yes, people can get COVID twice, but the article also buried the critical portion: the risk of contracting COVID is like the seasonal flu. Hence, the new normal, folks—COVID and the flu are here to stay in their seasonal cycles (via NYT):


Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid. 


“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’’ 


The decline in mask wearing occurred after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask recommendations this spring. The virologist Trevor Bedford, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle, has estimated that the risk of Covid is similar to that of the flu, with one death in 2,000 infections, about one tenth of what it was originally, with one death in 200 infections. 


For Nathanael Nerode, 46, the partner of Mx. Cherry, the imperative now is to educate others about the risks that remain. When friends say they are not worried about Covid because they have already had it, Mx. Nerode, who also uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, sends them a link to academic papers that suggest reinfection is relatively common and each infection adds to the risk of severe outcomes. When friends say they do not mind if they get Covid because it will be only a cold, Mx. Nerode sends a paper suggesting that even mild cases can result in cognitive impairment. 

“I’m fairly blunt,’’ said Mx. Nerode, who is also a member of Mx. Cherry’s game group. “So when somebody’s like, ‘Oh, I’m inviting you to this event,’ my response is, ‘You’re crazy. That event is dangerous. Don’t come crying to me when you get sick.’” 

That does not mean life has to shut down, the couple said. If everyone at the board game group would commit to wearing well-fitting, high-quality masks — they prefer elastomeric p100s — and the group invested in a HEPA filter, Mx. Cherry says the couple could safely attend. Mx. Nerode’s 90-year-old father, for instance, a math professor at Cornell, has taught all semester with the same equipment.


Outkick’s Clay Travis was blunter, calling these people “insane.”

“Their brains are broken. Their covid fear porn is never leaving,” he added.

It’s time to live with risk, and it’s not like the immune-compromised became especially vulnerable post-COVID. Pre-COVID was just as dangerous for these afflicted bunch, so everyone needs to relax. We're also not going to grind society to a halt again over a slim minority that doesn't want to go outside. 

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