Susan Estrich commentary: The next year of COVID-19
Summary: The alternative, for those of us who are not facing potential comorbidities, is to go back to life, accepting that COVID-19 colds and congestion, like seasonal flus, are just going to be part of it, to be avoided if possible, but not at the cost of avoiding life.
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The year began with such great optimism when it came to
. Science had produced a miracle or, rather, multiple miracles named Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and while there was much talk about freezers and distribution and dosing, there was even more hope that the ANSWER was at hand.
And it was, sort of. If the question was, how do we stop so many people from dying of this terrible disease, then an answer was at hand. When the studies were done later, it was clear that the vaccines slowed down the number of deaths, if not stopping them completely.
Of course, we wanted more and still do. We wanted everyone to get vaccinated, and an unexpectedly large number of Americans have refused to do so. We wanted COVID-19 to go away, except it turns out that COVID-19 is getting more contagious, not less. And while people aren't getting as sick as they did with delta, just being sick as opposed to being deathly ill is not what we were hoping for.
"We may need two more shots this year," the woman taking my blood told me on the second poke.
"Or we may all get it," I added.
Or both, we agreed, sort of like the flu.
Actually, exactly like the flu.
You don't stay home if you've been exposed to the flu. Everyone gets exposed to the flu. That's why everyone is supposed to get flu shots. And then some people get the flu anyway. That's how it works.
Of course, if you're really sick, you stay home. But it's not a federal holiday. You go back to work as soon as you can, at the first possible moment and not the last. Some of us actually work even when we have the flu, especially if we work remotely. You try not to spread it, that's for sure, but not at the expense of closing down the store or the airline.
COVID-19 comes with all kinds of symptoms. When I thought I had it, when the home test proved to be as unreliable as they say, I suddenly felt sicker. And scared. Not because of my symptoms (I was testing because I'd been exposed, not because I was sick) but because it was "COVID-19."
In the coming year, anyway, what may count more than the medical symptoms are the mental ones. It's not what COVID-19 is doing to us so much as how we are thinking about it that threatens to wreak havoc with our lives.
COVID-19 may not be killing us at an alarming rate, but it is surely terrifying us. There are lines outside every testing place. You can't find a home test for sale.
And most tellingly for Los Angeles, there is no traffic. Not only no traffic on the holiday, but no traffic on the Monday when everyone is supposed to be back at work. School is suspended; colleges are telling kids to stay home another week; no one quite knows what to do. Or rather, what to think.
Science is not wiping out this virus. We don't have a cure. We have a bad cold. If we think of it as a curse, it will be. If we are terrified by the very word, stigmatized by any association, then our fears will surely be justified by our self-fulfilling prophecies. COVID-19 will ruin everything this year, no question of that, from the arts to sports to social life. It will devastate the schools and destroy even more restaurants. Forget hospitality. Forget retail.
Or don't. There is an alternative. It doesn't mean being foolish. But it also doesn't mean going back to lockdown, mentally or physically.
The alternative, for those of us who are not facing potential comorbidities, is to go back to life, accepting that COVID-19 colds and congestion, like seasonal flus, are just going to be part of it, to be avoided if possible, but not at the cost of avoiding life.
Happy New Year. Time for life.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.