I feel like I’ve lost my goddamn mind, but we’ll get back to that point soon. Let’s start with this. Two things seem to be true at this moment in the pandemic:
First, that our numbers are higher than they’ve ever been, in most cases not just by a hair’s breadth, but often by two, three, even four times their previous peaks.
Second, that we are doing less now to mitigate cases than ever before.
This happened alarmingly fast. Delta took a couple months to simmer here. Omicron, the dominant variant, boiled as soon as it hit the stove. It rolled over us in a matter of weeks, not months. Hey, we flattened the curve — just in the wrong fucking direction, as our leap in cases is now a billionaire’s rocketship, launching straight up and into orbit.
With this new variant came the assumption that it is a milder form of the disease, and from that single assumption arrived a number of decisions. The CDC changed all its policies in a sudden, confusing barf of protection reductions. (Though in fairness, Carl Bergstrom notes on a Twitter thread that, despite the piss-poor communication, there might be some value in these changes.) The CDC’s head, Rochelle Walensky, offered a (correctly) maligned soundbite, explaining that “the overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least 4 comorbidities. So really these are people who were unwell to begin with and yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.” Never mind the fact that comorbidities such obesity, diabetes, depression are not uncommon, particularly as one enters middle-age (and never mind that were they uncommon, it is not actually encouraging to be told that you are unwell and will be the ones to bear the brunt of the disease that nobody is protecting you from). The Biden administration has relied on vaccines and mandates, but not fully — they refuse, even still, to make vaccines a requirement of domestic flights. And the current business mandate is being challenged in the Supreme Court, with a not-unreasonable chance for it to fail. There are supposed to be tests coming to us by mail, though I’m not sure when, and we’re not even sure how well the home tests detect Omicron, particularly in its early stages. There exists little clarity on what anybody is doing, which mostly means, nobody is doing anything.
From this, you can feel the lack of leadership and the loss of focus and good communication cascading out through the populace like a wave of surrender. Masks? Fuck ’em. Gone! Gone. I mean, to be clear, they were gone mostly when the CDC botched that communication early on, but here, now, I go out and I don’t see a mask on a face. Not from anybody. Not even as our cases are triple where they were in this county. Vaccine mandates? Temporarily gone, and probably full gone soon enough, with no seeming plans to introduce them. Testing? Quarantine? Isolation? Contact tracing? Can’t find tests, and the CDC has changed who should get them. Quarantine and isolation is already limited now, and for the most part here, parents and workers are subtly encouraged in schools and in jobs to just… casually not test at all because if you test, you might find it, and then your kids might not be in school (THE HORROR) and you might not get to come in to do your job (OH SHIT) and so maybe, y’know, I dunno, don’t go looking for COVID and you won’t find it. (This, a particularly Trumpy echo.) Contact tracing? Hahaha. Haha. Hahahhahgaaaaaaah yeah nobody is tracing shit anymore. It’s on you if you wanna do that. Good luck.
And from all this has cascaded a particular attitude, even among people who were once maybe careful, who are vaccinated and are not necessarily thoughtless people —
The attitude is, I give up.
It’s, “I don’t like this anymore, so I’m not going to do it.”
It’s, “Well, we’re all going to catch it anyway, gotta live my life.”
It’s, “I don’t want to hear anymore about how the bridge is out, I’m just going to accelerate the car and assume they’ll put the bridge back up before I get there, or at the very least, I’ll just jump the ravine in my Toyota Camry.”
They are bored with the pandemic.
They are tired of it.
They don’t want restrictions.
They don’t want to stop or even slow down.
And it has led to this peculiar, troubling moment —
Cases are worse than they’ve ever been.
And people are done caring.
If you ask them, they will say — to go back to the beginning of this — oh, I hear Omicron is mild. Is it? Is it mild? Maybe. It may be milder. I know a lot of people who have COVID — more now than cumulatively throughout the entire pandemic — and they’re all vaxxed and boosted and experiencing a relatively mild sickness. Of course, when you realize that before now, there was Delta, and vaxxed/boosted people did not catch Delta easily, it starts to feel like it’s weird to call Omicron — which is kicking down the doors of your body’s protections — milder. Is it mild? It’s mild in that it doesn’t seem to lead to as much hospitalization and death, though that’s not the only metric by which we live. A lot of the people I know who have or had Omicron experienced a rough ride, even if it didn’t include an ambulance ride. Hospitalizations have not yet made the epic leap with the case rates, though hospitalizations are usually a couple-few weeks behind, and deaths behind that. And even still, hospitalizations are boiling over (yes, even with kids) and our healthcare system is wobbling toward collapse, and none of this even seems to consider the unknown potential of Omicron to lead to Long COVID, which would be a mass disabling event that would create some of those pesky comorbidities the CDC is so eager to dismiss. Does COVID significantly increase the chance of developing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in children? Seems like it does.
If you’re starting to feel like, “Hey, maybe this doesn’t sound good,” check this out:
Let’s go to Buzzfeed, where they asked experts to clarify some of the questions about kids and COVID. (Please, no jokes here about Buzzfeed — they have a pretty robust journalistic wing, and have at times done some fantastic reporting.) In this article, you will find first this:
‘“You don’t want colds passed around schools either, right?” Rutherford said. “But on the other hand, one of the reasons we have preschools is so parents can go work. That’s a benefit of it. And if you send them home every time they sneeze, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy parents.”’ Rutherford said it makes sense for schools to continue to follow whatever pre-COVID sickness policies they had in place, with an added layer of COVID testing for children with more severe upper respiratory symptoms. But he said this testing should be rapid, not PCR, which usually takes multiple days to deliver results.
Because, ha ha, yeah, exactly, you can’t be too STRICT with this shit, right? But then:
‘About 20% to 40% of teens who get infected may develop long COVID, said Blumberg. “In younger children, it’s less, but we don’t have good numbers on that.”’
Wait, wait, what? Fucking what now? Twenty to forty percent? Uh, first, that’s a huge unknown gap between those two numbers, but even on the low end, that’s one out of five teenagers.
But we’re just like, nah, fuck it? Ha ha, eat shit, teenagers!
Now, I want you to go check out the CHOP guidance for the new year — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a generally reputable source on all things children-health-related, yeah? They begin their piece by noting how COVID has pushed the healthcare system to its limits and how dangerous it is, yadda yadda yadda, but then they land on their actual guidance, which begins with:
‘With evidence that COVID-19 is becoming a milder infection in most children, and at a time when all adults and youth in K-12 settings have been offered vaccination, our PolicyLab experts and CHOP clinical leadership have reached a consensus that preserving as much in-person schooling as possible outweighs the risks of infection to children and school staff at this stage of the pandemic.‘
To translate: keeping kids out of school for any period is a sickness greater than COVID.
And here, again, is where I reiterate:
I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Am I losing my mind? Are you?
I sure feel that way.
I feel like someone just told me 2 + 2 now equals 22, and a lot of people seem to agree with that, even though we all know math doesn’t work that fucking way.
I feel like I’m seeing and hearing how bad the pandemic is presently, how the systems are straining, how teachers and healthcare workers are quitting in droves and are pushed to their limits, how friends and family are seeing workplaces and schools hamstrung by all this shit, and then, at the same time… I’m seeing nobody do anything about it. Like, not a fucking thing. In fact, less is being done.
We’ve given up.
This is the Great Surrender.
We acknowledge, oh yeah it’s not good, and then we just keep doing what we were doing. No slow down. Only acceleration. We will violently shoulder our way through this pandemic, because we are so done with it, even as it is clearly, clearly not done with us. Schools are open because jobs are open because the economy must be fed. And people defend it. Like they’re people who know they’re in the Matrix and they defend it. Everybody’s Cipher from the first movie, YEAH I LIKE THE TASTE OF THE STEAK, FUCK YOU. Long Covid? Ennh, fuck it. Masks? Fuck it. Restrictions, lockdowns, any mitigation efforts? Fuckity fuck it all. We give up. Game over. Get COVID. Who cares. ISN’T IT TIME WE ALL GET IT, says Agent Smith as he coughs into your mouth.
It feels like gaslighting not from a single-source, but in a miasma that surrounds you. It’s area-of-effect gaslighting. You feel like you wanna say, “Hey things seem really bad right now, maybe we should give things a pause,” and then you get a look like, WOW LOOK AT MISTER LOVES-THE-PANDEMIC OVER HERE, CHECK OUT THE PLAGUE FETISHIST, THE MASK-HUMPER, THE GUY WHO REALLY LOVES HURTING CHILDREN BY SUGGESTING THEY NOT GO TO A SCHOOL WHERE HALF THEIR PEERS ARE OUT, HALF THE TEACHERS ARE OUT, BUT THAT’S FINE IT’LL MAKE THEM TOUGH. It’s like we’re trying to John Wayne our way through a global pandemic, like we can bootstrap it. I mean, sure, kids are barely vaccinated. But jobs! Jobs. Jobs jobs jobs. Gotta churn that crank. Gotta turn out the widgets, and you can’t churn widgets unless your kids are in school. Feed the beast!
(Here I recognize that yes, some kids do need to be in school, not just for education and social development, but also for food. But it’s also worth recognizing that these are systemic failures, in part, and punishing them by forcing them through a boiling pandemic comes with its own obvious deleterious consequences.)
It’s like we’re done with the finding out part and want to get back to the fucking around part, even though it’s not usually supposed to go in that order.
We just… deflated.
I don’t have any great conclusion here. I only write this because I want it written somewhere that I feel like I’m losing my mind. And maybe I am. Maybe I’m the wrong one.
It’s just — what the fuck.
I am blown away. Once we celebrated our healthcare workers and teachers, once we at least tried to band together and flatten the curve (if in our limited way), but now we’re like, nah, fuck it. Nah. Just nah. I mean, sure, other countries are addressing the problem. Sure, if we had just cooled our heels for two, maybe three weeks, we could’ve taken this sharp rise and spiked that volleyball back to the ground. But this is America. We do everything bigger and better. We’ll make this the biggest spike the world has ever seen. We’ll never let it go. We learned to stop worrying and love the COVID.
Mission Accomplished. That’s the banner COVID is hanging right now.
And we are good with that.
And now imagine:
Just wait till climate change really gets going. Every day is already a new story about how FIRE AND SNOW HAD A BABY AND A NEW ATMOSPHERIC RIVER IS DROPPING A BOMB CYCLONE OF HUMID HELL WASPS ON BOTH COASTS, and already we’re like, ennnh but fuck it. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. We’ll develop renewed patience just in time, I’m sure. Any time now. Any. Time.
(As a PS, I apologize if this feels like a bummer. But I honestly feel pretty anxious not just about the pandemic, but also about our sudden acquiescence to it, and I really wanted to talk about it somewhere that wasn’t just Twitter. It required unpacking and so here I am, unpacking. I will get back to fun writing advicey stuff soon. Buy my books or I die. Bye.)