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DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — If you spend even a small amount of time scanning social media or watching cable news, the world still seems like a pretty grim place.

A new COVID-19 variant, omicron, is now responsible for most new infections in the U.S. Vaccine boosters don’t appear to prevent transmission or symptomatic cases, though they continue to protect against severe disease for many. And cases, even in highly vaccinated parts of the country, are spiking again.

“Should you travel for the holidays?” After such tremulous headlines, articles all seem to conclude that even if you and everyone around you is boosted and double-masked at every moment, the answer is “no.” It was within this context that I apprehensively boarded a flight from Fort Worth to the East Coast for our family Christmas celebration.

My fear, to be clear, was not for the health and safety of my nuclear family. Long ago, after hours of reading research and studying datasets, I determined we are at low risk. Nor was it for my extended family, who are either vaccinated or had COVID-19 and recovered.

It was for what we might encounter along the way: Stern Transportation Security Administration agents instructing my kids to keep their distance; unyielding airline personnel preparing to kick us off the flight because my 2-year-old couldn’t manage to wear a mask; an air of suspicion and fear coloring every human interaction between entering security at Dallas/Fort Worth to picking up our bags in Philadelphia.

I assumed that outside my Fort Worth community, in which COVID-19 presents a rare inconvenience but nothing to be feared, most people back east are living in a state of low-grade anxiety, their daily lives governed by the latest public guidance declaring that human interaction is a high-risk activity that should be avoided.

I was grateful to find my assumptions were wrong. There were no sideways looks. No comments about my unmasked toddler. Only pleasant — mostly normal — interactions with everyone around us, even in the moments that my mask had fallen below my nose.

It was a Christmas miracle. Or maybe, it’s just reality beyond the headlines.

Maybe it’s because huge swaths of the population are like me and the people in my social circles. In a phrase, simply “over it.” They long ago determined that COVID-19 is real and needs to be acknowledged but that they will no longer let relentless avoidance of it govern their lives.

The narrative that many Americans are living in constant terror of illness seem to be vastly over-represented in a national news media that relies on fearmongering to stay relevant. Most people, even in a state like Pennsylvania, which has been extremely cautious with COVID-19 the past two years, seem to have settled into equilibrium. They take the precautions with which they feel comfortable and don’t worry about what others are doing.

If someone is triple-vaccinated and wants to double-mask at the grocery store, fine. If the next person had COVID-19 already and doesn’t want one of the COVID-19 shots, that’s fine too. It’s time to get on with life, even in blue-run states that have kept the reins tight.

People seem to be making preparations for Christmas celebrations like they usually do around my Pennsylvania hometown. The local grocery store was crowded, people were queuing up at the seafood market, the liquor store was busy, and even the line for confession snaked around the sanctuary at the Catholic church my family attends.

No one seems to care about their neighbors’ vaccine status. But they seem eager to exchange a smile and a kind word, which even our president can’t muster when he talks about those who decide against vaccination.

It is refreshing. It is normal. It’s what the holidays are supposed to be. It’s not what the headlines will tell you, but that’s what I found traveling this Christmas.

Cynthia M. Allen is a Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist.

Arriving travelers walk past a sign directing them to get a free COVID-19 Rapid Test at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, Dec. 3, 2021.
Arriving travelers walk past a sign directing them to get a free COVID-19 Rapid Test at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, Dec. 3, 2021. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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