What It’s Like to Not Have to Wear a Mask Inside or Out Anymore

For the entirety of the pandemic, I, along with a number of my talented colleagues, have been publishing the “What It’s Like” series on saratogaliving.com. The idea behind it was to give the average Saratogian or Capital Region resident a front-row seat to how the pandemic had adversely affected different people from different walks of life: frontline healthcare workers, lawyers, horse owners and even those who were in the hospital fighting for their life against the deadly COVID virus.

It all started on March 23, 2020, just days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a mandatory lockdown, due to what was then known as the “novel coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” (Our in-house nomenclature would later morph into the “COVID-19 crisis,” the “COVID-19 pandemic” and eventually, just “COVID” or the “pandemic.”) That day, my wife and I had run out of our usual supply of foodstuffs and needed to make a trip to the supermarket. I remember literally being scared for my life—it was my first time out of the house in several days, and as I roamed the aisles of my local Hannaford, I was worried that everyone I came into contact with—anything I touched!—could be my COVID death sentence. The fear was real. And, so, when I returned home, I dashed off an op-ed for the website, had my colleague proof it and hit publish.

In the weeks that followed, the “What It’s Like” series blossomed, with me and my colleagues tracking down a family doctor, a Saratoga barber, pediatric and Albany Med nurses and someone who had contracted the virus and thankfully, recovered, in quarantine. Things got a lot heavier on April 8, when I reported a story about the GoFundMe page friends of a classmate from Saratoga Springs High School, Paul Jancsy, had launched to help pay for his medical bills. It turned out that he was at Saratoga Hospital with a nasty strain of COVID, and things weren’t looking so good. I messaged his wife, Sara, and that initial exchange began a sub-series of “What It’s Like” that I published over the next several weeks and months. First, Paul was on a ventilator, basically, a death sentence at the time. Then he was taken off of it. Miraculously, he was released from the hospital, told me his harrowing tale, then found himself back in the hospital soon after, once again fighting for his life. Eventually, he recovered. In between that, there were many more “What It’s Like” stories. Though not all of them went “local viral,” each of them was an important step forward for Saratoga Living and its website. I’m proud of where the series took us, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did working on it.

That leads us to this last “What It’s Like” post, which fittingly, is set at one of my favorite places in the world: my longtime gym in Troy, anatomie. I had only recently returned there, having been fully vaccinated on May 10, but still having to attend my 6am classes wearing a mask and socially distancing from my friends. (For the previous year, I had begrudgingly ordered dumbbells, purchased a kettlebell and bands and worked out in my living room, sometimes alongside my wife, others, dodging my poor dog.) But this morning was different. After Governor Cuomo first announced that many of the longest-standing COVID restrictions would be lifted on May 19—and followed that up by declaring that fully vaccinated people could lose their masks and the need to socially distance—I knew there was an end in sight. This morning, the morning of the 19th, for the first time in well over a year, I got up bright and early and entered anatomie without a mask on. In fact, nobody had a mask on. I could see everybody’s smiling faces, and it felt so good. My energy level was at “Christmas morning” levels, and though the class was difficult as always, it went by quickly. What didn’t go by so quickly, though, was the last year and a half, and I can’t tell you how many times, doing burpees or squats at home, I dreamed of the day when I could set foot in anatomie again without a mask on and have a normal day. Though the pandemic is far from over—many places in the US and throughout the world are still suffering badly—I feel like, at least in the Capital Region, we’ve finally found a slice of relief. And, man, does it ever feel good.

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