Ending With a Whimper

Perhaps this will be my final Covid-related post. Living outside the United States for the last 15 months provides a fascinating comparison perspective. Unlike much of the rest of the world, the news out of the US in any regard to Covid is uniformly negative, as it has been since the inception of this virus three years ago. Dire warnings of triple-demics this past winter were, once again, grossly incorrect. Attempts to milk Covid for additional revenue whether in advertising dollars or ‘free’ vaccines and boosters have, however, inevitably run out of steam.

The pandemic is over. Some might argue it was over months ago or more but let’s not dicker. The World Health Organization (WHO) determined it’s over and of course they’re the wisest voice in all of this, right?

Before we get to the article and statements from the WHO, I’ll simply say I think the 6.9 million people who died would prefer we celebrate a bit, having gotten through all of this. Instead of a whimper and simply turning our voyeuristic and opportunistic lenses elsewhere, we ought to stop to give thanks to God. If your congregation hasn’t done this, let me humbly suggest it should. An opportunity to acknowledge losses and give thanks for those who avoided infection or found it didn’t affect them as direly as it did many others.

I find it fascinating that the article (if not explicitly the WHO) credit the end of the pandemic to vaccination, treatments and herd immunity. No mention of the weakening strains of the coronavirus that have proved less and less dangerous to most of the people they infect. In other words, the pandemic is over because we beat it, not because the virus weakened and diluted and became more and more inconsequential. Not even a combination of the two factors. It was simply our ingenuity. Really?

I’m curious about the statement in the middle of the article asserting “In most cases pandemics truly end when the next pandemic begins.” What in the world is that supposed to mean? Is the presumption we careen from one medical emergency to another, one bubonic plague to the next, one Covid to the next when clearly, historically this is not the case. Or perhaps Michael Ryan of the CDC simply means there is always a pandemic, always some contagion circling the globe. Of course that might be true, though substantiation of this would seem problematic at best. The only reason we paid attention to Covid – or swine flu, or any other number of illnesses – is that we proved ill-suited in our immunological response to it, to the point where enough people died in enough places to connect dots and determine something larger was happening.

But I’d argue the statement makes little sense regardless of which interpretative line you follow.

And I’m curious exactly how Mr. Ryan thinks we will fix our weaknesses, whether biological or systemic and bureaucratic, so that no other virus can ever threaten us again and we need never fear another pandemic. Again, history certainly doesn’t bear this out. A certain humility, lacking in the comments in this article, would seem appropriate when we realize our solution to Covid was by and large to hide for three years, separated from friends and loved ones to cower in fear. It’s clear that the promise of immunity from vaccines gave way to a less grandiose, muted hope that, if they did not prevent infection, they would at least weaken the symptoms of covid and the mortality rate.

If anything should be learned from Covid it’s a healthy humility and awareness of our fragility. An awareness that even the combined resources of the richest and most scientifically advanced countries could not prevent the spread of Covid nor significantly blunt its initial impact. Science is not the impervious or impartial champion it wanted to be in all of this. People did the best they could and I don’t fault the efforts in the least, but rather the overblown rhetoric by which certain measures were justified despite little reliable data on their effectiveness. The way in which people were demonized for disagreeing or even asking questions. There is indeed a lot we could learn from this pandemic experience, but I don’t think we’re likely to. History shows us this as well.

So when will your life go back to normal? When will you gather with friends again without cringing when someone blows out birthday candles before carving up the cake and handing you a piece? When will you not jump a little when someone nearby coughs or sneezes? There’s a powerful argument to be made that despite national or global decrees, the pandemic will never be over emotionally or psychologically for those of us who lived through it.

I was fumbling with something in my shirt pocket the other night, trying to figure out what it was. It wasn’t bulky enough to be a handkerchief (a necessary, constant companion in the oppressive heat and humidity of a tropical climate). I finally managed to pull it out, and it was a face mask. While there are still plenty of people going around with facemasks in Southeast Asia, and while this may be the case for years to come, or perhaps forever, it was a profound moment that I was so surprised at what it was, that I should have it on me and not need it any more. Or at least feel like I didn’t need it.

Maybe that’s a first step towards the true, personal end of the pandemic. Thank God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s