When I first started making maps of the spread of COVID-19 across Connecticut in March of 2020, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be making more than a handful of them. Maybe I’d keep doing this through April or May, or whenever the pandemic ended. But I didn’t stop for another fifteen months, and even then, it wasn’t because the pandemic was actually over.
Along the way, I made about 265 maps as we tried to figure out the best way to show the impact of the pandemic visually. Initially, I made maps of raw case counts per town, until it became clear that I’d just be making population density maps. Then it was a daily map of rolling cases for the past week, and then, finally, a weekly case prevalence map that controlled for population. Even that map had its flaws, but it was probably the most useful way to illustrate which communities were faring the best and the worst and how Connecticut was dealing with the pandemic generally.
I thought that I might share a few of the things I learned while doing this series. These are thoughts born from helplessness, anger, grief, and despair. Mostly, these lessons are all about loss of faith.
The most shocking and disheartening lesson of the first months of the pandemic was that we were on our own. I think we’ve let ourselves forget just how bad those first days were – when it became clear that the strategic national stockpile of medical supplies was running dangerously low, and that the Trump administration was prioritizing states important to the president’s re-election, such as Florida, over the blue states where the pandemic was hitting hardest, like New York and Connecticut. Loose coalitions of states began to band together to coordinate pandemic response and the first round of reopening because the federal government wouldn’t.
The Biden administration’s vaccine program has been so quietly competent that it’s easy to forget that this wasn’t how it was last year. This is how the federal government is supposed to be.
But we can’t count on that to always be true. Not anymore.
Another thing we can’t count on like we used to, or at least like we thought we’d be able to, is our fellow citizens. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, driven in large part by toxic and delusional Republican politics, made a deadly pandemic a thousand times worse. They kept the pandemic rolling through the summer of 2020, preventing a lull in cases that could have been a time for the country to bury the dead and prepare for the next wave. They drove the second wave, ensuring that after each holiday cases skyrocketed because they wouldn’t forego any of their normal celebrations. They showed up to political rallies and smugly defied the desperate urging of public health officials.
And now their refusal to get vaccinated is making the evolution of a more vaccine-resistant variant much more likely.
Was it so hard to put on a mask, or to get a vaccine that millions of your fellow Americans have gotten, to help protect the rest of us? Apparently, it was.
The Trump administration and the cynical, hypocritical anti-reality of Republican politics are the ones to blame for the selfishness of their followers. The GOP won’t pay a heavy price, though, not in the long run. Who’s going to make them?
But the United States wasn’t alone in being unable to handle the pandemic, not by a long shot. Countries worldwide struggled with a disease that had no regard for international borders. Wealth and walls couldn’t keep the virus out, and wildly different policies from country to country arguably added fuel to the fire. Once vaccines became available, though, the power of wealth reasserted itself and the rich world was first in line to get their shots. Poorer countries have just had to wait.
This was the first truly global crisis we’ve faced since the end of the Second World War, and I’d argue that this is the first catastrophe in modern history that has left no country unaffected. Our system of nation-states utterly failed to respond in any coherent way. How can a world that failed to contain a virus or distribute vaccines equitably hope to respond to the slow but inevitable catastrophe of climate change?
Planetary problems require planetary solutions and if a system of hundreds of squabbling sovereign nations can’t respond to a global crisis, it’s time to replace it with something that will. I don’t know what that would look like, but if nothing else, I’ve learned that the stakes are too high for us to change nothing.
Despite all of this, I did see examples of quiet, steady leadership and selfless sacrifice on the part of first responders, health care workers, and essential workers. They, along with the Americans who did mask up, who practiced social distancing, who skipped holidays and birthdays, who only saw friends through a computer screen, and who got vaccinated as soon as possible, have quietly and dutifully carried the country on their backs since March 2020.
I only wish it had been enough.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.