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Ross: The four magic words for maskless encounters with strangers

Social distancing and mask requirements remain in place across Washington. (MyNorthwest photo)

Due to the incredible weather lately, I’ve been taking daily hikes through the suburban wilderness of Mercer Island.

Most people are familiar with the I-90 bike trail, but there’s an outback with steep ravines and a forest with giant trees and snags and nurse logs and trails that look like any hike in the Cascades. Except that instead of backpacks, the hikers are more likely to be carrying a Starbucks cold brew.

Anyway, I was in a ravine coming down some steps when I noticed a woman coming up the same steps taking those deep aerobic breaths – because it was pretty steep – and she was not wearing a mask. I did have a mask, but it was buried in a pocket, and I couldn’t find it.

I realized I was about to have my first maskless interaction with a complete stranger.

There we were, two people, breathing heavily, brought together by fate, approaching each other, with our faces buck-naked. And I began to worry – uh oh – this could be awkward. Do I turn away? Put my hand over my mouth and face and very obviously hold my breath?

And then suddenly, she said, “don’t worry – I’m vaccinated.” And I replied, “well, so am I.” We then passed briefly through each other’s exhaled carbon dioxide.

I said to myself, well, that was easy – but was it safe? I thought it through. The only way it would be not safe would be if both of us were lying, but since I knew I wasn’t lying … check. And so, the only other possible danger would be if both us were unlucky enough to have breakthrough cases – where you get infected and can infect others despite being vaccinated.

My hunch is that the chances of that were pretty small.

So for now, I am going pronounce my first unmasked encounter with a stranger a success, thanks to the magic phrase – “don’t worry, I’m vaccinated.”

Some day that phrase will be on the dollar bill.

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