In the absence of American unity, we return to trust

There is at least one positive post-COVID development

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published April 2, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

A man carries a mask as he walks along Roosevelt Avenue, which passes through the neighborhoods of Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights, areas that witnessed some of the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths on May 11, 2023 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A man carries a mask as he walks along Roosevelt Avenue, which passes through the neighborhoods of Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights, areas that witnessed some of the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths on May 11, 2023 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When was the last time you pulled the elastic bands of a KN-95 mask behind your ears and felt its effect on your lungs as you took your next breath? Can’t think of it? Neither can I. There was a spike in COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the U.S. in early January, causing major hospital chains in some states to reimpose mask mandates on everyone entering, but the increase has subsided. The latest national statistics for COVID from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have the disease down across the board.  During the third week in March, emergency room visits for COVID were down 21 percent; hospitalizations down 14 percent; and deaths were off 16.7 percent.

But I had to look on Google to find those statistics because the latest COVID stats aren’t in the news you see every day. It’s tempting to say that the disease isn’t a factor in our lives anymore, but with 1.2 million of us dead from COVID, the effects of the disease on families linger. Children are being born who will never know their grandparents because the disease took them. Widows and widowers miss spouses who died during the height of the pandemic. Companies have closed in every state in the Union because lockdowns shut them down permanently. The restaurant industry is still in recovery four years later.

When I moved to this small town in Northeast Pennsylvania two years ago, I put on a mask whenever I entered the local Walgreens and Key Foods supermarket. A few other fellow citizens still wore masks inside public places, most of them my age or close to it, but the rest of the world had already moved on.

I gave up masking sometime in the winter of 2022-2023. Both my wife and I had gotten the booster that came out in the fall of 2022, but I don’t remember thinking about it when I stopped putting on a mask. When it got cold enough to get out my heavy duty down jacket in December of last winter, I was surprised when I reached in my pockets for my gloves to pull out a KN-95 mask from the winter before. Had it really been that long since I’d even laid eyes on one?

It had. And as I recently pushed a cart through the new Market 32 supermarket in search of luxuriously large Honeycrisp apples, I asked myself why I wasn’t wearing a mask, and neither were any of the people around me, including employees who had contact with customers all day long. 

Without even thinking about it, we have come to trust each other.  

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I don’t know how many of my fellow customers in the supermarket that day were vaccinated – CDC statistics tell me the vaccination rate for this county is 67 percent overall, with more than 80 percent for those over 65 – but when I had to look it up on the CDC website, I realized the number didn’t matter. The trust between us is deeper than vaccination statistics.  We are, without thinking about it, trusting one another to deal with disease responsibly and to stay home if we’re sick, reducing transmission of COVID in public places so the rest of us can shop without having to worry about it.

Then I realized the word “trust” hadn’t passed my lips in so long, I couldn’t recall the last time I said it. The political divisions in this country have us looking at each other as if from opposing camps. Donald Trump uses words like “enemy” and “evil” to describe Democrats, and we’re not much better, with phrases like “lunatic fringe” spilling from my lips and keyboard regularly. 

This county is part of rural, conservative Pennsylvania. Pickup trucks with loud mufflers go down Broad Street flying large Trump flags, and I pass people wearing MAGA hats on the street not daily, but often enough to take notice when I do. I saw a Trump flag on a pole bolted to the bed of a pickup the last time I parked the car in the Walmart lot. The person who owned that truck may have been one of those in line behind or in front of me at the cash register waiting to pay. But I had to conjure the memory to come up with it because I didn’t think about it at the time, even though the chances of the Trump flag-waver being vaccinated against COVID were probably slim to none.

I’m not sure what accounts for the unspoken trust I’m seeing and feeling around me. The end of mask mandates in public buildings and businesses passed some time ago, and we all noticed that, but we haven’t thought much about what replaced it. Sure, a reduction in COVID cases and hospitalizations and tragic stories in the news had something to do with it. If something isn’t in your face every day, you tend not to think about it. 

But COVID hasn’t gone away. My wife Tracy and I came down with it last August, as we did two years before during the same month. Friends of ours from the East End of Long Island put it on Facebook when they got sick recently, and a neighbor recently reported that she had tested positive and was staying home from a local political event.  So, it’s out there. If you’re vaccinated or have immunity from having contracted the disease before, it’s like having a bad cold or the flu for most people. It can be worse for others, but even so, we have come to accept that occasionally we’re going to come down with the disease, and we move on.

COVID isn’t a political issue anymore, or I wouldn’t have had to go looking on Google to find mention of it.  Out in public, we’re trusting each other to do what we and our friends have done: we stayed home for five days or until symptoms have passed, and then we went on with our lives. 

Think about it, the next time you walk into a supermarket or a pharmacy or a pizza joint. Those are your fellow citizens around you, and you can see their faces, and waiting in line to pick up your pizza, you’re not standing six feet away, not because the “social distancing” lines have faded or been painted over, but because you trust them. What a nice surprise.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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