The Pandemic Tyme Preacher Woman is back — and just in time, it appears.
The PTPW — whose name I will not publish, lest any crazies reading this column feel inclined to harass her — is a 60-something Jewish woman living in New York City. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has religiously, in accordance with her Jewish beliefs, and as a matter of prudence, worn a mask.
Relatively early in the outbreak, she became the Pandemic Tyme Preacher Woman, posting videos as she moved about the city, urging people to protect themselves and others from the virus by wearing a mask. Even after the federal emergency declaration for the pandemic expired (at midnight, May 11, 2023) the PTPW kept on wearing a mask, no matter the looks or comments directed toward her.
At a Jewish wedding on Long Island this summer, “I was the actual sole person masking. Now you can imagine how this went over. I got stares, I got smirks, I got all kinds of comments,” she said in a video. “I’m so incredulous that this needs to be said. The pandemic is not over. I don’t know if it ever will be over. As long as people are getting COVID, the pandemic is not over . . . “
In recent months, the PTPW posted less often.
She resurfaced a few weeks ago. Not so coincidentally, so did new variants of COVID-19 — an acronym that combines CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease, and 19 for the year the novel coronavirus was recognized, in 2019.
“People you know are getting sick again, that a few months respite from the ubiquity of COVID infections, it seems that they are back,” the PTPW said.
And herein lies a cautionary tale.
Even the PTPW is susceptible to a momentary lapse of resolve. Hers may have come in Paris, on a recent trip abroad, perhaps when she removed her mask in a subterranean jazz club. Returning home, she tested positive.
I can sympathize. I removed my mask in a crowded Chicago blues club in May 2020. Within days of returning home, I felt ill and tested positive, as did my wife a few days later.
One of my sisters has her own COVID tale. She and my brother-in-law recently attended a bar mitzvah in Washington, D.C. Within days, both tested positive — as did at least 20 others who attended the party afterward. A member of the host family sent out an apologetic email that ended with the hashtag #stopsuperspreaderbarmitzvahs.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard more anecdotal reports of COVID cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the rate of COVID-related hospital admissions nationally increased 7.7 percent for the week between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2. COVID-related hospitalizations in Georgia decreased 10.2 percent in the same period, after increases in previous weeks.
Compared with the pandemic’s peak, the raw numbers behind those percentages are small and do not include people who test positive but do not go to a hospital.
No matter the data, a poll conducted in August found that half of Americans believe that the pandemic is over, down from 62 percent in mid-May. The Axios-Ipsos American Health Index also found only 15 percent reporting that they sometimes wear a mask in public, declining from 23 percent in May and 30 percent in February. Significantly larger percentages felt that opioids/fentanyl, obesity, and access to firearms were greater public health threats than COVID.
In mid-September, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved an updated vaccine and the CDC recommended that everyone from six months old and up roll up a sleeve and be vaccinated. I plan to get mine soon.
I am filing this column still jet-lagged from a week in Barcelona, a trip that my wife and I were forced to cancel in mid-March 2020 as COVID rampaged through Europe. I wore a mask in most crowded spaces but forgot in the crush of a subway car after a soccer match and that’s probably where I caught a cold.
The Pandemic Tyme Preacher Woman has recovered from her bout with COVID. In her latest video, she shared a message for those who wear a mask, despite risking ridicule and mockery. Chazak, v’Ematz, Hebrew that can be translated as “be strong and courageous.”
“Just know that what you’re doing is smart,” the PTPW said. “It’s not extreme.”