I am writing this on March 6, 2022. I first wrote about Covid, in a post to my neighbors, on March 6, 2020.
There is now absolutely no question that we are facing a major life-altering epidemic and all of our lives are going to be changed for a while and for a few of us our lives are going to be threatened. …(We need to) stay at home as much as possible.
On March 20, 2020 I elaborated:
And folks, we’re here for the long-term. Like two months? Three? More? We need to gird our loins and figure out ways to cope with what is essentially a total meltdown of our normal lives. We need to figure out how to model courage and fortitude and flexibility and grit … We need to picture a day some months ahead (July? August?) when we sit at Walden Pond or Lake Winnipesaukee or the Mystic Lakes and we say, “Remember that nightmare? Remember how every single week got worse?”
Oh, the innocence.
Oh, the naïveté.
Oh, the complete and total impossibility of predicting what we would be like today.
Re-reading my March 6, 2021 post is also painful:
And here we are, 52 posts later. And 520,000 deaths. And ten million people unemployed and eight gazillion divorces and ten jillion kids who more or less lost a year and a surge in anti-depressant prescriptions. So much anguish. But here we are.
Here we are now. It’s March 6, 2022, a hundred posts later, and we have 950,000 deaths and we are only beginning to grasp the collateral damage. And we still need to gird our loins for the next steps.
I’m a Boston-based cancer doctor and I’ve been writing weekly fact-based-no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.
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The next steps reflect the fact that the case numbers are free-falling down, and the hospital strain has eased up, and the wastewater analysis is showing us the lowest Covid levels in ages. So now everything we got used to during the last two years is now slated to start to ebb away, at least for now.
I hope it’s clear there’s not going to be a day defined as “The End” the way March 6, 2020 was “The Start.”
We absolutely cannot say, “As of March 6, 2022, we’re done and the pandemic is over.” There’s still a lot of Covid to be transmitted, and variants are a constant threat.
But the rules are now changing back to a way of life we used to occupy without a moment’s thought.
Remember how we used to accept that infectious agents — or “bugs” as we used to say before we all became Junior Virologists — were just a normal part of normal life?
Remember how we just assumed if our kids went to day care they were going to get sick eight times a year and we would sometimes get sick from them as well?
Remember how our co-workers used to come to work coughing and sneezing? Remember how sometimes the whole office would be laid low but mostly we would all be fine?
Remember going out in public knowing we were sick? I remember having a cough that was so bad — that kind of really frightening she’s-going-to-cough-her-lung-up -here-it-comes-I-can-hear-it cough — in the middle of the pillowcase aisle at TJ Maxx that a woman came from out of nowhere with a cup of water she collected from the restroom. I should have been mortified, but I wasn’t — it was just the way we ran our lives.
Remember how we used to assume we’d get sick from an airplane, ie “I caught some crud on the way back from Vegas”? One time the woman in the next seat had a little sniffly nose as she boarded. Six hours later she had a full-on giant upper respiratory infection, the poor thing, miserable as can be, feverish and hacking and spewing stuff everywhere, and a couple of days later I got a bug for a couple of days. I barely blinked. It was just the price we paid for modern life and a cross-country flight.
Prior to 2020 we accepted that sometimes we would get sick with infections and this was a normal part of life.
Then in March 2020 it all changed. We became deeply afraid of SARS-CoV-2 and we needed to be. We knew NOTHING about this new bug — not how it spread, not to whom, not when or how fast, not how fatal it might be, not how to treat it and not how to stop it. We had no knowledge, and we had no treatments.
We needed to be frightened. We needed to respond with ferocity. Dying from this disease was a small but very real possibility. We had to delay getting Covid until we knew more about it, until we had therapies, until the risk of dying diminished as it has now. We had to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Those were the goals: delay, defer, keep the hospitals upright.
And over the next two years we did learn more about it. And then vaccines came along and some treatments came along and now the risk of dying is fantastically decreased for the vaccinated.
Now it’s never going to be 100% safe to be in schools and at work and on planes, just like it wasn’t 100% safe back in our olden days. But it’s going to be safeR.
There’s going to be less to catch and less catastrophe if we do.
But boy, the adjustment is tough for a lot of people, and this reaction is not unexpected. After all, we’ve been stewing in an anxiety cauldron for 24 months. Of course it will not be easy or intuitive for everyone to about-face away from our formidable fears. (Of course, for some people it will be a snap.)
And it will probably be a heckuva lot harder for those of us who tend towards anxiety, or if we like things Super Black And White and For That Matter Hate Gray, or if 100% (as in “100% safe”) is our favorite number.
All epidemics always end, and some day we will be back to some sort of normal.
However, it isn’t going to happen all at once and you don’t have to do it all at once. You can of course wait for the numbers to go down further. You absolutely can continue to wear a mask and this will continue to protect you and others in crowded indoor situations. You can absolutely stay more careful because of your kids or because you are immunocompromised — you were always at more risk of illness and you still are — so yes, you still take precautions, more than you did in the past. And yes, you should absolutely positively get boosted!
And we may have to leap back into vigilance and more preventative actions again if a new variant appears. Right now we don’t see a bad variant in the offing, but that doesn’t mean this will last. Right now, BA.2 isn’t causing radical surges anyplace, and that’s reassuring, but we have to keep an eye on it and any other variant that can blast off in a short time in a sub-optimally vaccinated world.
Walking into a school or work or childcare has never been completely safe but we never gave our vulnerability much thought. Stepping back into the world with this vulnerability now etched into our hearts and souls will not be a simple process.
But it’s how epidemics end, one stepping-out venture into our changed world after another.
And then some day we will sit at Walden Pond or Lake Winnipesaukee or the Mystic Lakes and we will talk about all of this in the past tense.