I was staying in Mexico City when I got the word. “Your mom and sister have COVID. We’re on our way to the emergency room.” 

I was stunned. My mother, a longtime resident of Salt Lake City, where I grew up, is 90 years old and rarely goes out in public. Both she and my sister were vaccinated. How could this have happened? 

I scrambled to get an immediate flight to Salt Lake City, which required a COVID-19 test for boarding and over $800 for a one-way ticket. I holed up in a hotel near the family house and helplessly waited while doing shopping and what little I could to assist.

As the next weeks unfolded, I grew more and more angry. Sure, I was traumatized. But few people in Salt Lake City were wearing masks, even in close quarters indoors, and I knew less than half the people in Utah were vaccinated. 

I can understand not wearing a mask in a big open Costco store, but when I walked into a crowded public bathroom at a Costco and asked why they didn’t wear masks, men said they weren’t required to, and one haughtily asked me if I could read. I was too stunned to reply. Yes, I read. I read a lot. I read what doctors and experts say. And regardless of mandates or rules, I do what I must to protect myself and others from a known, deadly infection. I have severe lung and heart issues. COVID-19 would likely kill me.

California, where I live permanently, currently has the lowest coronavirus transmission rate in the United States notwithstanding its densely populated cities. Why? Simple. Vaccinations.

As reported by the New York Times, more than 82% of Californians age 12 and over have had at least one vaccination shot. Most people there don’t view it as a political issue, but as a public health concern. Even in conservative rural areas, people are now changing their minds and getting vaccinated. 

Of course, there are other measures that have an impact. My vaccinated sister from Boston got COVID-19 in Salt Lake City trying to help with my mom and immediately got a call about contact tracing. Was it from the state of Utah? No, she never heard from them. It was from her home state of Massachusetts, with a Republican governor.

In Mexico City, everyone wore masks, indoors and out, except for some people exercising individually outdoors. In the five weeks I was there, I wasn’t aware of any rule; it seemed rather to be considered a common courtesy to others, like covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze. 

In my hometown, San Diego, many people wear masks indoors in public places even though the vaccination rate is high, and most gladly put one on if requested to do so, politely asking your preference when entering your home. It’s not to say one place is better than another; it’s to say COVID-19 is less politicized in other places.

I felt relatively safe in Mexico City. I feel relatively safe in San Diego. Sadly, I did not feel safe while in Utah, because people in Utah don’t seem to care. Their politics, or whatever, are more important than public safety. Judging by their conduct, they apparently don’t care if they get COVID-19, and they sure as heck did not care enough to take minimal precautions to ensure that weaker people like my mom don’t get it, even if it threatens her life. 

View Comments

Freedom, you say. Huh. Not my mom’s freedom.

How is my mom, some might wonder? One doctor described the shock to her from COVID-19 as falling off a cliff. A month later, she appears to be slowly getting stronger. She may never return home. She is now in a rehabilitative care facility, and while still quite weak and cognitively diminished, she has taken a few steps. 

When I visited her at the end of April, she could walk 1/2 a mile around the neighborhood. She is surrounded by loving family and friends, and that will likely pull her through, we hope. Thanks, Utah.

Blake M. Harper is a retired lawyer living in San Diego.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.