GUIZERIX: The ‘new normal’ feels like a trip to Bizarro World

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2022

I walked into the Warren County Courthouse this week, just like I do every other Monday, but in many ways, the scene felt reminiscent of the “Twilight Zone” era Bizarro World.

For the first time since mask orders became widespread at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, face coverings weren’t required inside the courthouse. It was the first time I had personally entered through the doors without my little blue paper mask from the drugstore.

Gone were the sheriff’s deputies stationed at the entrance, like they’d never been there at all. A few pieces of Scotch tape and dog-eared corners of printer paper were all that remained of the oh-so-friendly “MASK REQUIRED IN COURTHOUSE” signs on the glass doors.

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And somehow, the empty lobby seemed more welcoming than ever. Folks were smiling at one another, trading handshakes even, walking past each other on the staircase closer than the recommended six feet distance.

Walking into the supervisors’ board room, there was noticeably less tension than I’d ever felt while covering a meeting.

Chancery Clerk Donna Hardy made the joke that it was so nice to see people’s faces, but in some instances, she wasn’t sure if she recognized them without a face mask.

“Do like this and I’ll see if I can recognize y’all then,” she said, holding her hand over the bottom half of her face.

As the meeting progressed, it seemed like the attendees were energized. There was a sense of relief in the air. The notion of “I can’t wait to get this mask off my face,” which so often permeated discussions, was no longer present.

And, as far as I know, everyone who’s gone to the courthouse for a meeting over the last week has lived to tell the tale. Some people are still choosing to wear masks indoors, and that’s completely fine — it is and always should have been a personal choice.

After leaving the meeting, gathering my notes and pausing to reflect on my trip to Bizarro World, I realized this probably won’t be the last time I have an experience like this.

It’s not that I was more or less susceptible to COVID-19 on Monday than I was any other time I went to the courthouse; the risk was always there and probably always will be, to some extent.

It’s the way unmasking improved my mood, my emotional state and my focus that stood out the most. It’s seeing the full faces of some of the people I’ve been writing about for almost a year.

A year ago, the thought of going maskless filled me with dread. But now, two years into a pandemic that’s quickly turning endemic, unmasking brought me a level of comfort I hadn’t before considered.