A year ago, having spent months isolated at home, or out of work, and without the many conveniences of modern American society, everyone was champing at the bit to resume “normal” life — kids in school, adults at work, barbers and dentists and other services open, sports and entertainment venues welcoming patrons. Some governors pushed to “reopen” their states’ economies quickly, as if merely saying the pandemic was over would make it so.
That was unduly optimistic.
A year later, we’re in very much the same situation, though a lot has happened since.
As the epidemiology experts predicted, cases rose every time people decided they’d had enough of social distancing or that the worst of the danger was past.
Human nature being what it is, the availability of vaccines, coming just in time for spring, led to an outcry for relaxing the social distancing rules that had kept the virus from spreading further. Many of us clamored for the vaccines, while others were … hesitant. Whether they felt it was too much of an unknown or simply thought that if enough others got the shots, we could reach the longed-for “herd immunity,” we don’t know. In many cases, it seems to have simply been an obstinance to being told by others what they ought to do. Whatever the case, lots of people, especially in states run by governors that have downplayed the threat, haven’t gotten vaccinated.
So here we are: in August, once again, watching COVID cases rise precipitously; once again, wondering whether students can safely return to classrooms; once again, waiting for word that we can return to offices and other workplaces; and once again, arguing politically about the advice of medical researchers and doctors who’ve spent decades studying these very issues.
From the outset, what was needed was extreme caution, coupled with acknowledgment that this virus is new and different, and no one would have all the answers. Even the most analogous history — the great flu pandemic of 1918 — was different, in that international travel is far easier and more common these days, making transmission of a virus exponentially easier.
And while the CDC and other actual experts have mostly been right at almost every step about the danger and how the virus would spread, in conveying the steps people should take to protect themselves and others, they quite frankly screwed up. In particular, they were all over the place on the efficacy of masks, first telling people they didn’t need them, or that only hospital-grade N-95 masks would suffice. They soon realized their folly, noting that any mask is preferable to none, and correctly pointing out that the biggest benefit of masking is to those we come in contact with, not to ourselves.
As for the vaccines, the understanding of their effects has, too, been evolving — along with the virus itself. Though remarkably effective at fighting the original coronavirus, the major vaccines have been shown recently not to be as highly effective in keeping recipients from contracting the new delta variant. Making that dynamic worse is that many of those who’ve been vaccinated have seen themselves as immune, and therefore have stopped socially distancing.
It’s important to note that even those who’ve contracted the delta variant, if vaccinated, have suffered far-less-severe cases of COVID. That alone makes the vaccines worth getting.
So now, even here in the Granite State, where the majority of residents have been smart enough to take precautions for the past year and a half, cases are again spiking, this time driven by this new variant.
We have trusted the experts all along, and despite some clear errors along the way, we still do. To put it bluntly, they know much more about the science of epidemiology and contagion than do we, or any of the chorus of YouTube catcallers. One of the more important messages the public health experts have conveyed is easy for anyone to understand:
Like the flu or any other common virus, the coronavirus and its effects are here to stay. As medical research continues, we may eventually reach the point where rather than a deadly wave threatening millions, it is a containable and treatable virus. For that to occur, however, a greater percentage of the population needs to accept that vaccination and social distancing are the key to easing the pandemic.
The vaccines we have now are effective, even if a booster is needed to deal with additional variants. And that’s all we could have hoped for a year ago. So again, we appeal to the better nature of those who’ve refused to get vaccinated, and to those who refuse to wear masks in closed spaces, to help everyone get past this.