I have been (and continue to be) a bit doomy about the pandemic, so I feel I should make a little bit of a big deal about the number of deaths from COVID in the US last week falling below 1400, the first time it has been below 200 dead Americans a day since the start of the pandemic three years ago. Similarly, while we are not quite at the low point for hospitalization (which was last April) there are only (only!) around 12,000 people currently hospitalized with COVID in the US, and the trend is still in the good direction at the moment.
I don’t, alas, believe that it’s “over”. We seem to be heading toward treating COVID-19 like the flu, by which I mean that there will be an annual booster that will not be required and that most people won’t get; that we will not for the most part test for the specific virus unless a person is sick enough to see a doctor; that people who get sick will not quarantine, other than those with very severe symptoms who can’t simply carry on; that very few people will wear masks or take other preventive measures, and those who do will be tolerated but not respected; that most of the people who die will be the people already most vulnerable to illness; and that planning for contingencies if it gets worse, or for pandemics generally, will be underfunded and deprioritized.
And that means a few things: first of all and the thing that I’m upset about the most right now, that most of us will be able to stop thinking about it much at the expense of a few million people who will have to permanently stop doing things in-person, except at very high risk of very serious illness or death. If America generally starts treating COVID like the flu, then people with immune problems or other health issues will simply never be able to safely go to a concert or a religious service again. They may have a choice: isolate your children or risk orphaning them. Many occupations will be closed to them. And of course, the 75,000 Americans who will likely die with COVID this year and the 75,000 Americans who will die with COVID next year, and again the year after, will be mostly people who are already pushed outside of the mainstream. I have a problem with that.
But also, given that COVID is not the flu, it seems at least fairly likely—perhaps not probable but not unlikely—that there will be new variants of concern, or new patterns of vulnerability. If six thousand Americans will die with COVID in a “good month” like this last one, it doesn’t take many “bad months” to put the butcher’s bill for the year past 100,000 again.
This is, of course, on top of any long-term problems caused by vast quantities of us getting COVID-19 again and again. I don’t know if I’ve said it here, but I have been saying pretty often that in the 2060s, there will be a ton of Gen Z folk who have their doctors tell them Ah, yes, I see, you had COVID back in the twenties. In my optimistic moments, I imagine the doctors going on to say we have a treatment for that.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,