Every now and then, someone offers me a helpful nudge that I haven’t posted anything in a while, and perhaps it’s time I do. I got one of those nudges this morning, and looking back it’s been much longer than I’d planned since I last premeditated here. Then it was spring, such as it was, with much of the western world under lock-down orders, and the rest of us behaving as if we were. The daily briefings from health officials were the top news of the day, and the term covidiot made its way into our lexicon.
A lot has changed in the nearly three months since I wrote my last post, suggesting to no none in particular that we should take the opportunity of the economic world being turned on its head to introduce a Universal Basic Income. Since then, the murder of George Floyd became the last straw for the millions around the world who’ve had enough of racism and police brutality. Public health orders notwithstanding, people turned out by the thousands in cities around the world to protest for change. In the United States, in Canada, and in the United Kingdom statues celebrating a history of racial oppression (and sometimes others, presumably in error) were pulled down or covered in graffiti supporting Black Lives Matter and decrying the ongoing attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Economies began to reopen, in most places gradually, but in others with reckless abandon. People flocked to restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, seemingly forgetting that the novel coronavirus is still active among us. In many parts of the United States, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have spiked, overwhelming intensive care units, and unfortunately morgues. A debate has raged there and elsewhere about wearing masks, with many people foolishly succumbing to pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Never mind that doctors and nurses wear masks – along with a lot more protective equipment – for 12 or more hours a day in hospitals, people have begun to claim that masks themselves are a greater health threat than the virus, some claiming mask wearing impairs oxygen intake, or that it can lead to carbon-dioxide poisoning, or even cancer. They doubt experts, and believe quacks. Worse, they often heed the advice of shadowy, anonymous conspiracy theorists over that of public health professionals.
Even without that sort of crackpot thinking, many people seem to believe that because we got bored with it – or perhaps because our media did, and so moved it deeper into their websites – the virus was no longer a threat. Many stores stopped limiting the number of people who could be inside at one time. They cut their $2/hour top-up for working in emergency conditions. Their staff, in many cases, were no longer required to wear masks or gloves. And so many of us have followed suit, let our guards down, ignored social distancing and let our bubbles of contacts expand.
Perhaps this was inevitable. As T.S. Eliot observed, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” and is really happiest when “distracted from distraction by distraction.”
The good news is that we seem to be making progress towards vaccines, although it is still early days. Even once a vaccine is approved, it will take some time to scale up production and distribution, so we should really be sticking to what preventative measures we have for the time being – the same ones we seem to be ignoring.
So, where do we go from here? The first wave of infections seems not to have crested and declined in the U.S., as it has elsewhere. Here, in Canada, we’re seeing another rise in cases after the flattening of our curve earlier in the spring. It seems likely we’ll be hit again, probably around the time schools are reopening in September, shortly before the annual epidemic of influenza.
We’ll have to hope that future waves are smaller than the first.