During some recent travel, I had a chance to get an up close look at the fractured nature of our national consciousness about COVID-19. In my world, friends and colleagues are just now gradually meeting in person, and all of them routinely test for COVID as a precaution. But outside the parameters of my world, everybody seems to be acting as though the pandemic is behind us.

For one thing, nobody seems to mind being on top of each other in public spaces. I’m extremely uncomfortable just watching all those yelling and screaming fans at the large sports events, all of them sitting close to each other. My attempts to social distance have often turned into a not-so-comic version of the iconic “close talker” episode from the 1990’s TV comedy "Seinfeld." Just like the Seinfeld character, the folks near me react to my attempt to create space by physically stepping back, as a cue to move closer.

And if what I saw is the norm, masks are pretty much a relic of the near past. Most communities — including my hometown Cambridge — have ended mask mandates. Still, there are plenty of us continuing to mask up. But, elsewhere, I am one of the few — sometimes the only — person anywhere in sight who is wearing a mask.

In Washington, D.C., last month I was relieved that many businesses I visited had signs indicating masks were required inside, even though the district officially dropped its mask mandate in March. Last week, as I stopped through airports in North Carolina and Texas, I could easily count the small number of mask wearers. I documented maybe ten at any given point. In North Carolina, I watched as passengers lined up for their flight to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. Before the boarding began, the gate agent repeated four times that the requirements for that particular flight were passports and masks. At the boarding door, all had passports at the ready, few were wearing their masks. From what I observed, it was not an act of defiance, the passengers immediately complied after being reminded — again. Clearly, they were so done with wearing a mask, they literally could not hear the word.

Yet it was just last month that the country reached a grim milestone: one million deaths from COVID-19. Even if many of us have dismissed the reality, COVID remains a real health threat. I don’t need to be reminded — too many of friends and acquaintances, who have been extremely careful, have gotten Covid. So has the super cautious Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden. I’m holding my breath knowing my time is no doubt inevitable.

Even in China, where an authoritarian lockdown in Shanghai was recently successful in stamping out COVID cases, the government has documented a new outbreak and is reinstating COVID-19 restrictions.

Too many people have misinterpreted “living with COVID” to mean returning to a pre-COVID time when there was no pandemic. It really means daily vigilance against an ever-mutating, life-threatening virus. Believe me, I am COVID-weary too, but a rush to some imagined finish line is not the way.