Cydney Gillis: Land mine tripped in covid’s office battlefield

An office policy that allowed those vaccinated to remove masks intensified the pandemic’s politics.

Cydney Gillis

Cydney Gillis

By Cydney Gillis / Herald Forum

Vaccination is a very touchy subject for some people these days. I didn’t know how touchy until I stepped on a land mine at work.

Our office had just rolled out a new covid-19 policy allowing anyone with a vaccination card to stop wearing a mask while in the office. What a development! Glasses without fog! Speaking at a normal volume again!

My supervisor signed off on seeing my vaccination card, and I left her office in high spirits. Before I freed my face, I wanted to share the momentous unveiling with someone; anyone, in fact. But I chose the wrong person.

“Hey,” I said, coming up to the cubicle of a fellow legal secretary, “are you vaccinated?”

“What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at me. I thought my mask had muffled my voice, so I pulled it up a skosh and repeated, “Are you vaccinated?”

Her face scrunched in reproach. “That’s not a question you ask people,” she snapped.

I felt like she’d slapped me. I apologized and backed away in shock, for two reasons: One, I had crossed the boundary of a person I like. And, two, it was clear her trust in Donald Trump divided us like a border wall.

This was something I wasn’t prepared for, something I didn’t want to know. Over the past year, we have all been through hell together: the closure of the office, the unknown of the future, the difficulty of working from home, and the reluctant return and commitment to make it work in the face of great risk. In the brief second it took me to ask my co-worker a polite question — I didn’t want to expose my face to her if she had not been vaccinated — this unison and triumph were shattered.

By the next day, the divide was stark. The liberals roamed with freed faces. The Trump acolytes remained masked. Each side eyed the other with questioning glances of surprise and uncertainty. We were all suddenly facing the politics of the people we work with every day; and some of the masked weren’t happy about it.

The choice not to vaccinate is personal, one said. She felt the new policy invaded her privacy. But we who bared our faces revealed just as much; in particular, that we believe vaccination is a sensible civic duty.

I’ve sometimes wondered if today’s anti-vaxxers would have refused to join their neighbors during World War II in collecting rubber or metal on the home front. It’s a theoretical question no one can answer. I can only say that seeing the reality of people I know who refuse to vaccinate was a jarring and unfortunate ending for a pandemic we have all withstood together, not at all the moment of joy I had hoped to share.

Cydney Gillis is a paralegal and a former reporter for Real Change News. She lives in Everett.

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