If you ask the average person if the Covid-19 pandemic is over, they may not be able to give you a totally clear answer. On the one hand, Covid cases are still occurring - many of us have gotten it ourselves over the past few months. But on the other, so much of what’s made up the experience of the pandemic - lockdowns, restrictions, mass testing and vaccination sites, constant news coverage - are disappearing, or becoming far less present in our everyday lives.
There are some exceptions, including China, which is continuing its “zero-Covid” policy. But the rest of the world largely seems to be going in a different direction.
In 2020, when the virus arrived, the government’s response was halting and disorganized. With time, however, something like consistency emerged: Americans knew what was allowed and what wasn’t. We’re now reverting to the Wild West phase.
Khullar reports that the CDC has essentially stopped promoting mask-wearing, and the US government has essentially blocked Covid-related funding, holding off on buying more antiviral pills, no longer offering free testing and vaccination, and no longer ensuring free boosters in the upcoming months.
The lack of free testing has had an unexpected impact. A recent article reveals that scientists in the US feel “in the dark” about the current state of the pandemic, due to a lack of current stats from testing, as well as a decrease in reporting from local governments. The lack of information not only affects their knowledge of infection rates; it also, as the World Health Organization’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus points out, will impede our understanding of how Covid evolves and the development of variants.
Interestingly, the article explains that information on the current rate and spread of Covid in parts of the US can still be found in some unusual places. For instance, wastewater testing results will reveal the presence and frequency of the condition. The article also cites a less conventional source: online reviews of Yankee Candles. An increase in customers complaining that the candles have no scent could be tied to an uptick in Covid cases.
Sometimes I think back to how things were just a few months ago. This past winter, for instance, I wondered if I would be able to travel to the United States to visit my family, or if a sudden surge in Covid numbers or the appearance of a new variant would close borders or put my country of residence, France, into yet another lockdown.
Now, a few months later, I’ve almost forgotten the feeling of constantly being on edge about things like my son’s school shutting down. Over the past few months, the French government has stopped using its controversial vaccination pass and totally lifted the strictly enforced (and mostly obeyed) mask mandate.
You’ve likely seen significant policy changes where you live, too. From the lack of testing and reporting results, to the mass lifting of restrictions, why does it seem like so many of us have moved on from this pandemic that’s still ongoing and that shaped so much of our lives for the past two years?
One is, simply, that we’re tired. As many of us can attest, that constant fear and checking and testing and worry gets exhausting. As epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo puts it: “It doesn’t end. We just stop caring, or we care a lot less.”
But there are other reasons for the shift in thinking, as well. For instance, Covid seems to be less serious for a majority of us, due to developments like widespread vaccination and the condition becoming endemic and thus naturally giving many of us immunity or some level of tolerance to it.
Still another cause of the current wave of Covid carelessness, Khullar writes, is that the condition affects populations very differently. For most healthy young people, it’s not a serious condition, but it’s ravaged populations in places like elder care facilities. Minority populations in the US have also suffered higher death tolls. Those who suffer or are most at risk know that Covid is still here. But anyone who’s not in contact with them may struggle to get a real grasp on whether or not the pandemic is still actually going on, since so much has gone back to the way it was.
In a way, it seems fitting that, just as Covid has changed, so has our response to it. Now, Khullar and other experts say, the real challenge will be how we deal with this new stage of the pandemic.
Although theories and suggestions vary, you could sum up their thoughts with these two words: awareness and empathy.
Being aware that Covid is still an issue means being prepared for a possible surge, improving access to testing, vaccines, and treatments, and making it common practice to test, wear a mask, and take other preventative measures in case of infection or a significant uptick in cases.
Being empathetic means allowing others access to care and accepting their decision if they feel they need to isolate, wear a mask, or take other precautions. It also means protecting those most vulnerable from infection by taking action at times - for instance, masking up when visiting hospitals and care facilities.
Covid hasn’t disappeared; it’s just become a part of our everyday lives. The question is how effectively governments, healthcare providers, and individuals will deal with this “new normal”.