Over a year ago I wrote that I hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would be handled so competently that people would suggest we overreacted. After fourteen months of masks and lockdowns, over 500,000 deaths in the US, and trillions of dollars of emergency spending, it’s clear that those hopes did not come to pass, but the end of COVID is finally in sight, so it’s worth capturing what this year-plus has been like.
First, it’s going to be interesting to see how history views our response to the pandemic; my impression today is that while the federal response was marked by incompetence, there was also a disturbing lack of personal responsibility from much of our society. Scientists warned us what needed to be done, but simple steps like wearing a mask turned into a weird political battle and resulted in what were likely hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and millions of unnecessary hospitalizations. Meanwhile, even though we learned that the virus mostly impacted older Americans and that masks were an effective preventative measure, much of the economy shut down completely for over a year, costing us trillions of dollars. While it is too early to say with certainty what should have been different, it seems pretty clear that we handled things poorly.
On a more personal level, the pandemic and lockdown was unlike anything that people alive today have experienced before. For almost a year and a half, anytime I saw someone who was older than sixty I wondered if there was a chance I might somehow accidentally infect them with a disease that could kill them. Some of my friends and co-workers were terrified of being around other people, with a few too scared to even leave their apartments for the entire year. The pandemic also revealed an ugly side to the country that was more pronounced than I realized – despite clear evidence that wearing a mask protected those around us, a not-insignificant number of people treated this commonsense health precaution as an affront to their personal liberty. Videos showing maskless people spitting in the faces of store employees, or attacking people wearing masks, were fairly common during this time. Also, continuing a long and scary trend, scientific expertise continued to be dismissed by political leaders and a large number of their followers. Overall, it did not feel like a shining moment in the country’s history.
All that being said, with vaccination rates climbing, the end is in sight. Despite the fact that this introvert enjoyed a year without work travel or social engagements, I’m looking forward to the world returning to its pre-pandemic state. Going to a movie theater will soon be an option. Eating out with a waiter who isn’t wearing a face shield, and at a table that is indoors, will be something we can do. Audrey and I are planning a vacation in September and not worrying whether businesses will be shuttered. Our friend Jocelyn recently visited, and for the first time in a year excitedly ran up to everyone to give them a hug. Audrey’s church choir will start singing together again soon. And we’ll soon be able to get together with friends without the conversation being dominated by the subject of masks and the pandemic. People are resilient, and after a long period that has been unlike any other, it’s nice to see the world finally starting to return to normal.