Pandemic musings

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Your Humble Blogger has been musing about the plague, and I suspect most of y’all Gentle Readers have been doing so too, and we may as well talk about it here, right?

Here’s my musing over the last weeks—we are, at least locally, in the middle of a spike in cases. Connecticut went from a low of under 500 new cases a day couple of months ago up to 3,000 cases a day right now, and that’s a rapid increase. And in terms of my own personal experience, pretty much every day somebody I know tests positive. In fact, and I want to emphasize that in this whole note I’m focusing on my personal experience this last month or so has been the first time when people I know testing positive for the plague has been an everyday thing. I have known people who were sick (and very sick) since the beginning, but only for the past, oh, six weeks or so, has it been every day someone I know testing positive.

And also: all the community theaters in my area have had to cancel shows over the last six weeks or so. Now, two years ago they had canceled everything, of course, but last summer, when things got back to a more normal schedule, the shows happened. There are a lot of reasons for that—we were mostly still being super careful last summer, and also we weren’t getting tested all the time. But still: every single theater group that I follow has had cancellations recently, when they did not before. Looking at my personal experience, that’s a huge difference, and somewhat troubling.

On the other hand, everyone I know that has tested positive in the last six weeks or so has been fine—some have had no symptoms, and some have had flu-like symptoms, but no-one I know has been hospitalized in the last six weeks, and no-one I know has died from it. For most of them, the quarantine was the most irritating part of getting “sick”—if they hadn’t tested, they would have gone about their business normally, or perhaps had to take a duvet day or two. This is the actual sense of ‘endemic’, right? People catch it, and maybe they get sick, but at any rate they’re fine in a week or two. So that’s much less troubling.

Except, obviously, that there are still a lot of people getting badly sick, and a lot of people dying. Those aren’t people I know, but they’re still people. And the more people who are sick, the more people who will get sick, and if small percentages get seriously ill, small percentages of very large numbers are still quite large. My personal experience is a problem, in this sense, because I am likely to think of it as ‘normal’, when, you know, even if it is, that’s not necessarily what counts.

And also also, while I don’t know anyone who has been badly sick these last weeks, I do know some people who are highly vulnerable and who have, these last weeks, had to essentially isolate themselves again. People are going to shows and dances and concerts! But not everyone. Risk is not spread equally, and tolerance for risk can’t be spread equally, either.

And here’s where I keep getting stuck. I don’t think that fewer people enjoying a more normal life is a good thing. But I am really unhappy about creating a kind of isolated-household class, responsible for protecting themselves at great cost while everyone else parties, tests positive and then moves on with their lives. And, obviously, not everyone can protect themselves, even if they really ought to, because people have to make a living, and have to take care of their loved ones, and have other responsibilities as well—and our community support for people to protect themselves is already fading, as (it seems) that class gets smaller and less ‘mainstream’. And that’s very troubling.

And also also also: it seems to me that every single person who gets sick increases the chances of a more lethal variant spreading. I don’t actually know things about disease! I never thought that about the flu, which is presumably in a similar situation. So maybe it’s not actually true about COVID-19. But if it is true, then this spike is extremely troubling to me personally and my future health.

On yet another hand, though—there is a downside to being more troubled than the situation calls for. These pandemic years have affected my judgment, I know, as they have affected everyone’s. My predictions have been wrong, over and over again—both my optimistic and pessimistic ones. I don’t trust my instincts. I trust medical experts to know things about epidemiology, but I don’t trust their moral judgments, and I don’t trust their predictions for the people’s behavior, and I certainly don’t trust their political instincts.

There is yet another aspect to all of this that I am worried about, which is that the state of the pandemic in autumn will almost certainly affect the state of US politics for years to come. If the pandemic is in people’s minds again, or even if the effects of the pandemic are affecting the economy and entertainment options without being directly on people’s minds, then there will be an anti-incumbent swing that (given the rest of everything) will (I think, and we know what my predictions are worth) sweep solid Republican majorities into the House and Senate as well as many state legislatures. The Other Party is disfunctional, yes, but they are perfectly capable of winning elections—it’s governing they can’t do, even by Conservative standards, and giving them the bulk of the power in our country would be an utter disaster in the short and long terms. And I don’t see any way to avoid that, if the pandemic is in fact bad this autumn. And who knows if it will be?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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