Our National Case of Long Covid
It’s always been death by a thousand cuts, hasn’t it?
Indoor masking is back in Philadelphia, as of Monday. The CDC, given the chance yet again to affirm what it promises it believes, that Covid is endemic, has just announced it will extend the travel mask mandate for another two week segment to “monitor” an uptick in Covid-19 cases. It’s a window just short enough to keep the hopeful hanging on and just long enough to appease the fearful. And of course, while most vaccine mandates for indoor dining and entertainment have been repealed, large sectors of the working class are still subject to this blank check medical search warrant—namely in the military, hospitals, and New York City. (But of course Title 42, the pandemic-era restriction on immigration, must go.)
We claim to have learned from the failures of the past two years. We claim to be able to look at China, in the midst of yet another lockdown, and say with confidence in our low case numbers and reopened economy, “the West is Best.” But it doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that what the West has done, and keeps doing, in these endless little rules, is hardly any better on our cultural psyche than the Eastern approach. In some ways it is worse, because it is more insidious.
Part of the problem is our indelible metrics system for determining when and where we can live as normal. Freedom, we’ve learned, is contingent on Covid-19 cases remaining below a magic number; if they rise above it, or if there is a new variant, all the talking points about learning to live with the virus go right back out the door, and we are subject to the same ridiculous rules that have not worked since Day 1. Of course, this is neither scientific nor sensible, but someone somewhere in the midst of 2020 decided it was the way, and now we’re all stuck on the merry-go-round.
Our national case of long Covid—the obscure version of the virus that apparently continues to haunt those infected for months after their original exposure—is our psychological fixation on the virus, which, for its own part, has long ceased to be a real threat to most Americans’ health. We have spent two years obsessing over case numbers, quarantining both healthy and sick, slandering those who doubt the efficaciousness of masks, and drifting ceaselessly between shutdowns and scaled re-openings as though the economy can be turned on and off like a switch. Like the chronically ill Colin in The Secret Garden, we are so scrupulous in our search for symptoms that we have worked ourselves into a state of mental sickness. But of course, Colin isn’t actually allergic to spores, any more than we are actually at any greater risk of death by our fellow human beings than we always have been. The sickly boy becomes healthier when his friends wrench him out of his self-made sanitarium and into the real world.
There is no known cure for long Covid, just as there is no known cure for our national obsession with this virus, save to drag the Colinses out of their caves, as it were, and into the sunlight. It is going to hurt at first, but our national health depends on it.