Opinion | The Vaccine Refusers Are Testing My Love of the South

By Anton DiSclafani

Ms. DiSclafani is a novelist and an associate professor of creative writing at Auburn University.

AUBURN, Ala. — When I had just moved here — six years ago and a lifetime ago — I was shopping at Publix, wheeling my cart out to the car. My baby sat in the buggy; I hit a bump and the bottle of sparkling water I’d just bought skittered onto the ground, exploding. A young man in a Publix uniform ran up; I anticipated frustration (I’d made quite a mess) but instead he apologized for my mistake and ran inside to get another bottle to replace it.

I tell that story to illustrate the extreme, sometimes unbelievable courteousness of the South. Here my neighbors think nothing of building a bridge over the creek in my backyard, so that all our children can play on it.

I love this place. Out of all the places in the world, I feel most comfortable in the South. I even like that as a Democrat, I cannot assume that everyone thinks the same way I do. I appreciate the diversity of thought and the spectrum of political views here.

But as I told a friend a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that moving here would mean I would be at a disadvantage in future pandemics. As I write this, just 34 percent of eligible adults here in Lee County, Ala., are vaccinated. When I went into Ace Hardware last week, my 6-year-old son and I were the only people in the entire store wearing masks.

The school board passed a mask mandate for public schools two weeks ago, in a meeting I livestreamed, then turned off because it was too painful to watch. I’ve been plunged into déjà vu, but not the mysterious or pleasant kind. The kind that makes you want to weep. Because even as parts of the country with higher vaccination rates start to return to something resembling normal, we’re basically back to where we were last year. Our hospital, East Alabama Medical Center, where my younger son was born three years ago, is again being flooded with Covid patients. The Delta variant is ripping through our community, and people are furious, but their anger is directed at, variously, the pediatricians who are encouraging vaccines for older children, the City Council who appointed the school board who passed the mask mandate and businesses that are not “Pro-Freedom.”

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