I’ve had three close brushes with COVID-19 recently, with my entire household coming down with it in May, a guest showing up with it in June, and half our team coming down with it at the Catholic Media Convention this month.

Just about everyone else in Portland seems to have recently been stricken with COVID-19. Not me. I am fully vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask in public spaces, and obsessively wash my hands.

Experts are urging the government not to panic over this latest surge. That might not be the case with the next variant. A more lethal variety could easily be around the corner. I’ll keep boosting, masking and washing.

Not everyone will. From the cautious to vaccinated folks who are “over” it to the defiantly unvaccinated, we all get to choose our own opinions — even different “facts.”

The person I know best who isn’t vaccinated also believes the earth is likely flat and that school shootings are faked.

Conspiracy theories extend all the way to the Vatican. Some Catholics think that Pope Francis has died, been arrested or embraced paganism.

In 1951, Hannah Arendt wrote about how propaganda erodes people’s common sense. “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world, the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing was true,” she wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism.

People were swept up in a mix of gullibility and cynicism as they stayed loyal to leaders who lied to them and ideologies that would murder millions of people.

Could it happen here? The United States fared far worse per capita in COVID-19 deaths than any other developed nation, and international organizations that measure democracies’ health say we’re troubled there too. The U.S. is now officially a “backsliding democracy,” falling by 11 points between 2010 and 2020 according to Freedom House.

Polls show high percentages of Americans who feel it might soon be necessary “to take up arms against the government” — 28% as of last month.

Be comforted knowing that many Catholics still favor reality-based logic, believing Pope Francis is still pope, democracy is worth voting for and vaccinations help.