COVID Summer 2021

The sense that a Theory Of The Case is generally missing, including from purported leaders, is thriving lately.

I continue to think back on one of the earliest COVID prognoses that caught my eye as one of the best. I wish I had clipped a source URL. But I recall back near the start of all this, someone advising that eventually everyone would be exposed to COVID and (this being way before vaccines) most people exposed would get infected. This was, as far as I can tell, always the theory of “flatten the curve”—even if that escaped people—i.e. don’t all get COVID at once and thereby overload the hospitals, not do this so that you don’t get COVID ever.

With vaccines’ arrival, some theoretical possibility seemed to exist that thoroughly vaccinated societies could achieve that so-much-abused concept, herd immunity.

That’s just no longer even within reach at this point.

As someone else forecast fairly early on, COVID is endemic now. There is no credible scenario for how this worldwide, extremely transmissible virus gets removed from circulation. This is not so much because it’s “mutating around the vaccines,” as ongoing lurid speculation anticipates, as it is because there are a lot of people who will never get vaccinated. Vaccines are available in America. It isn’t really an access problem other than for children or the immunocompromised. For millions of people in this country and many more in other countries, it’s basically just a Bartleby the Scrivener situation.

Few people seem even to be confronting this reality, honestly.

“Everyone gets vaccinated” might be realistic somewhere, maybe, but not in this country with thriving disinformation and deeply rotted systems of social organizing. Even without factoring in some transmission via vaccinated people, a huge population of unvaccinated Americans is going to keep COVID circulating for the foreseeable future. We can and likely will boost vaccination rates somewhat, but there’s no credible means to approach 100%. So COVID keeps circulating.

What do you want to do about that? Bring back indoor mask mandates? Two questions here:

  1. Do you envision indoor mask mandates in perpetuity, given that COVID is going to continue circulating?
  2. Do you also propose an end (or at least a permanent exile outdoors) to the basic human behavior of shared meals, since there is not and has never been a way for people to eat or drink while complying with a mask mandate? (As far as I can tell, “guests must be masked until seated” is about as meaningful as was the “nonsmoking section” of yore.)

I’m not an “antimasker.” I’m entirely content with those spaces which have kept mask mandates, such as Lakewood Library, or healthcare offices. But getting them revived in places which have discarded them is going to be difficult; the end goal is unclear; and, one more time, mask mandates have never actually been fully compatible with the dining and drinking businesses which are a large part of the contemporary service economy.

I don’t know if it had to be this way. The toll from COVID in the United States certainly didn’t in theory have to be far worse than “peer countries.” (At some point I think we need to reevaluate our concept of America’s peer countries.) But even societies without America’s deep cultural rot did not by any means “crush the curve.” A few have come close, but as far as I know this has only happened in relatively smaller states whose geography permits a practical option to seal the border tightly.

People have booed the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” framing from multiple directions, but as far as I can see right now, updates and booster shots granting to the willing a strong protection against sickness (even if not against infection) is about the best to which we can aspire with COVID, in the foreseeable future. It isn’t that this is “fine,” or even that it’s “good enough.” It’s that it’s just the best possibility that I can even see without magically conjuring up dramatic behavior modification on the part of lots and lots of people.

Get on with it already, and have my booster shot ready by this fall.

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