First of all: I keep being wrong about my predictions, and I keep saying I’m not going to make any more predictions, and I keep being wrong about that, too. Have I learned humility yet? Will I ever? While there’s life, there’s hope.
Specifically about the pandemic: at the very beginning of it, back in January and February of 2020, I pooh-poohed the idea that we would be unable to contain and treat this disease. Even in March, I was pretty sure that it was just a question of making sure everyone didn’t get it at the same time. If we can ‘flatten the curve’ and not overwhelm the hospitals, I thought, the improved treatments will catch up and we will be back to normal soon.
Then, by midsummer or so, I was pessimistic. When the institution that employs me declared its intention to begin the Fall semester with students on campus, I was deeply skeptical that it would happen. When we did, in fact, open the semester with students on campus, I thought there was little chance the dorms would stay open until Thanksgiving. In fact, the campus stayed mostly COVID-free for the entire academic year—there were some minor outbreaks, but the number of cases on campus never grew very high, and no students or faculty or staff died of the disease (as far as I know—a very few recently retired people and seriously ill people did die, as happens most years, and the pandemic might have played a part in that, either directly or indirectly, but I don’t know about it). While things were certainly terrible, nationally, in the winter, the situation on-campus and even regionally was not as bad as I had expected.
Then, half a year ago, the vaccines started to be available and I became optimistic again. Yes, I was aware that there were a lot of hesitant people, but surely (I thought) a good deal of that hesitancy will melt once millions of Americans have been vaccinated and have become protected, with only mild and short-term discomfort. The peer pressure will shift nationally to match the places where vaccination was already happening rapidly, and while of course there will be holdouts, we will quickly get to 70 or even 80 percent coverage.
And then—I was saying all Spring and early Summer—with very few people walking around carrying the disease, and with very few unvaccinated people vulnerable to catching it from them, by the time September rolls around it will be news if there is a case of COVID-19 in Connecticut. The mitigation strategies will be moot, I said, because there won’t be much to mitigate. Regionally, anyway. I was certainly not sanguine about the global situation, and I was concerned about pockets of vulnerability in the US, but with half of New England fully vaccinated by mid-May, surely by the middle of summer we would be approaching the famous herd immunity, the already-dwindling numbers would approach zero.
After the opening of Waiting for Godot, I had a moment or two when I wondered: is this midsummer madness? Is it all going to shut down again? Is this the last play I will do for another year, or two? Or ever? After all, every million people who catch and transmit this disease increases the likelihood of an Epsilon or Zeta or Kappa variant that makes our vaccines useless. And far worse, every month that this terrible pandemic lingers there is a real chance that the next, maybe more terrible pandemic will overlap it.
Those aren’t predictions! They aren’t plans. I don’t have any confidence in even the vaguest idea of what is going to happen with the public health over the next three months (or certainly longer). I haven’t a clue how colleges and universities and schools and businesses should be preparing for the end of summer. It seems—I guess?—like we are in better shape than we were for last September, with mandatory vaccination (with waivers) creating a safety net, but at the same time we have much less protection in place, many more opportunities for spreading, and much much less support both in resource terms (from governments, mostly) and in social terms (from students, parents and the community). I am not exactly pessimistic, but I have certainly given up my optimism, and I don’t have anything other than pessimism to replace it with.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,