Earlier this month, President Biden offhandedly commented on “60 Minutes” that the pandemic was “over.” “We still have a problem with COVID,” he said, “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
Biden, who is well-known for just blurting stuff out, caught even his own advisors off guard with his remarks. The response from leading medical authorities and commentators was swift and unambiguous: no it isn’t
And that’s true. COVID-19 is still a huge problem, one the World Health Organization still classifies as a pandemic. Hundreds of people each day die in the United States from the disease, something that’s been true since the last major wave swept over us early this year. Here in Connecticut, the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have also remained fairly steady since May.
The disease is still out there. It hasn’t gone away at all. It isn’t getting worse, no new variant has sent cases skyrocketing (yet), but neither has it gotten better.
And yet we’ve all apparently come to the collective decision that the pandemic really is done. How many times have you heard someone refer to the pandemic in the past tense? “Back during the pandemic, we…” or “This happened during the pandemic, but now…” and so forth. People are usually referring to the period during 2020-21 when things were at their worst, partitioning it off as a separate era from today.
Our leaders are setting the tone in ways both subtle and overt. When was the last time we saw President Biden or important Democrats in his government wearing a mask, for example? What about social distancing, or other basic precautions? They all seem to have fallen by the wayside.
Here in Connecticut, when was the last time Gov. Lamont gave a press conference to update us on the state’s COVID-19 response efforts? As far as I can tell, it was in January. Ever since then, the Department of Public Health has issued updates, but even those have gone from daily to weekly.
Instead of leaders modeling what the public should be doing, our leaders instead seem to be following the public’s lead. Biden’s remarks came during the Detroit Auto Show, which hadn’t been held since 2019, and I honestly think he said what he did because of just how normal everything there seemed to be. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks,” Biden said of the people at the event. “Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so, I think it’s changing.”
It certainly is. Stadiums and restaurants are full, workers are returning to offices, events are going on, people are taking vacations and seeing family, all without masks or precautions of any kind. Biden didn’t declare the pandemic over, the people did. Biden just echoed the sentiment that’s already out there.
It’s obvious why. People are sick of the pandemic, they want normalcy, and they’re willing to either take the risk or pretend the risk isn’t there at all to get it. Politically, being what is derisively referred to as a “COVID scold” would be like tying a lead weight around your neck just before the midterm elections. Nobody wants to hear it.
It’s a strange, uncomfortable time for anyone who is still concerned about the very real threat COVID-19 represents. It’s like being gaslit by the whole country. More and more, anyone who is still taking pandemic precautions is doing so alone. The social and psychological pressures to take off the mask, go see family, have a beer, go to the game, and live one’s life are tremendously powerful.
Of course they are. After everything that’s happened, we all just desperately want things to be normal. I’d love for things to be normal! I’d love to never wear a mask again, or think twice about going out, or get yet another booster shot. I want 2019 back.
But things aren’t normal. 2019 is gone. We live in the here and now, the pandemic still exists, people are still getting sick and dying.
What do we do?
Maybe the best I can say is this: if you’ve chosen to live your life without precautions, fine. That’s on you. Honestly, I don’t even blame you, and I’m not going to tell you what to do.
But if you are like me, still taking COVID-19 seriously, then know that you’re not alone. It’s not weird to take common-sense precautions like masking and social distancing. It just means you want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from a deadly disease, no matter how hard it is.
Whatever road you’re traveling, I hope you stay safe and healthy. And let’s all hope the pandemic really is over soon.