"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The End Of The Pandemic With A Whimper- Chicken Little And The Paralyzing Fear Of Getting COVID

It has been just about three years since the first COVID case appeared in the United States, ushering in a period of gulag rule – enforced isolation, quarantine, testing, and social barriers.  Schools were closed without evidence that young children were important vectors for the disease; restaurants, cafes, and bars shut their doors, and terrified people sprayed, wiped, and sanitized in a hysteria without foundation; but COVID for the majority of Americans was no more threatening than the flu, two weeks of misery with few sequelae.

‘The science’ was never settled.  First the disease was said to be spread every which way, so people should stay closeted away from dirty shelves, doorknobs, and bad air.  Then the science did a volte face – surfaces were no problem. Fulminating, mutating viruses were circulating in air ducts causing great waves of infected spores through every indoor space.  The virus was airborne, waterborne, emulsified in droplets, ubiquitous, and growing more dangerous every day.  

Dr. Fauci, head of the CDC COVID response team became the Moses of the pandemic, the ex-cathedra Pope of Infection.  When he spoke, everyone listened.  Few listened to political leaders who under- and overestimated the concern; but everyone listened to Dr. Fauci.  When he changed his mind, it was a tribute to science rather than an error of judgment.  

“Science evolves”, he said, meaning that what is true today might not be true tomorrow.  Look at the Earth, he said.  Without Galileo we might still be wrong about the setting sun.

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Not only did the country lock down in a panic, but vigilantes emerged to find truants who went unmasked, crowded other’s space, and infected thousands.  Children whose innocence gave them cover were recruited as informers. Neighbors turned censorious – no one fell outside the jurisdiction of the righteous.  J’accuse! was the meme and the ethos of sick America.  We are doing our duty, you are not.  You are irresponsible, immoral.  The frozen gulag was too good for them. Isolate them beyond discovery.

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The vaccines came and there resulted a Black Friday rush for access. Government websites were overloaded, appointments impossible and soon a matter of racial politics.  In some majority black cities, inner city communities which failed every test – masks, distancing, handwashing, avoidance of crowded venues – and whose health was among the poorest in the city because of personal neglect and indifference were given preference over white ones which did everything right.

Finally supply caught up with demand and booster followed booster until the nation was satisfied.

Almost.  There is a bell curve for every human activity, and so there is for reactions to COVID.  There are those people who took the virus as a matter of course.  It didn’t kill anywhere near as many people as heart disease, cancer, and even traffic accidents; most young, healthy people –unlike the demographics for the 1918 Spanish Flu – were unlikely to come down with anything more serious than a cold.  Older people, wise to affairs of health, risk, and reward knew that something soon would take them off, so why worry?

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From the very beginning there was a cluster of Chicken Littles unreasonably concerned about the virus and driven to take determined action.  They sequestered their mail and Amazon packages for three days, installed industrial strength air purifiers, scoured and scrubbed every household surface with biohazard-approved products.  They never went out, always ordered in, ventured into the garden only after midnight for a breath of fresh air, got rid of the dog, and tested themselves again and again. 

At each stage of the pandemic, these inveterate worriers modified their behavior only slightly.  The masks never came off, nor did the compulsive handwashing, nor did the avoidance of restaurants, gyms, and coffee shops.  Theirs was to be a self-enforced hermetic existence because…..and here most worriers hesitated because the truth was so unpleasant….they were unnaturally afraid of death, believed that a long life was a birthright in the modern age, and that uncontrolled disease had no place in advanced societies.  

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Even today with the pandemic seemingly in its last stages, having been driven back by vaccines, natural immunity, and the life span of any virus, worriers are still on watch.  It could come back with a vengeance, they say.  No time to let down the guard.  Vigilance is key.

Reminiscent of the informer, j’accuse phase of the pandemic, these latter day Chicken Littles are still the enforcers of old.  “Get tested!”, insisted one family member worried about catching some new, as yet undiscovered strain from his relatives and their friends.  Why the guests at this small, intimate family dinner should be singled out when the accuser, his wife, and small son went about to grocery stores, preschool, gas stations, and gyms without testing themselves after each outing.  The irrationality of the request let alone its imposition on those who had long passed the pull-by date for existential COVID worry, was astounding.  Yet, there it was, baldly stated, insistently enforced, and dismissively presented.

To be generous this insistence was probably residue from the absolute avoidance of anyone who wasn’t vaccinated with up-to-date boosters.  Once vaccination became almost universal, the accuser felt the need to turn to its logical follow-up.  Since the accuser and his family always wore masks everywhere and refused entry or communication with anyone who did not – and most did not – then the only policing left to him was “Get tested”.  Or else.

The accuser was not alone.  The Chicken Little confraternity is not as small as might be expected.  In it no one is cavalier, hesitant, or careless.  Their vigilance is as great now as it ever was before.  Infectious Armageddon is still a possibility, and The Big One nigh. The rest of America went out dancing, got their dander up when told to test, did so, but felt the new communal spirit in the country had been violated.  Pulling together, accepting fate, dealing with risk, caring for oneself and others within reason were part of the new canon; and the accuser ignored the rules.

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