It's been just over two years since this all started. Back in 2020 everyone with half a brain was concerned: there was zero immunity, not even an inkling of a vaccine, an endless void of things we didn't know about COVID-19 and mass graves being dug in urban centres around the world.
Since then, by some estimates around 5.5 million people have died from the virus. In the U.S. alone, COVID-19 killed more people in the last 28 days than car accidents killed all year. No matter how you cut the numbers, this has been far more dangerous than the flu. The threat was real, the evidence speaks for itself.
A few important things have happened since then though:
- We've rolled out around 9.6 billion vaccine doses. Yes, the distribution of these doses has been grossly disproportionate between the rich and the poor (hooray for Capitalism!), and some of these have been more effective than others. Some doses have had some scary side effects (albeit in fringe cases), but huge swaths of the world are now demonstrably safer than we once were.
- Our understanding of the virus has exploded, and with it, public understanding has grown considerably (though the misinformation is rampant out there as well). Some of the key critical pieces of information we've learnt so far include:
- Children under 12 don't seem to be affected very strongly by the virus. In nearly all cases, if symptoms exist at all, it's indistinguishable from the common cold. They are however demonstrated carriers.
- The vaccine does not prevent infection (fun fact: few vaccines manage this), but importantly while it reduces the negative effects of the virus on the recipient, transmission appears to still be common, albeit likely diminished compared to the unvaccinated.
- The Omicron variant, while difficult to pronounce for some (seriously people, find a Greek to help you already) is proving itself to be a milder form of the virus. It causes far fewer severe cases, even fewer hospitalisations, and even fewer deaths. Among the hospitalised and dead, the highest proportion are the unvaccinated and those who likely would have bought the farm with a bad case of the flu.
So, as rational people who accept new information and circumstances as they are (rather than trying to distort them through a lens of bias) we must re-evaluate our response to the virus with this new information in mind. Let's recap the above into something easier to digest:
- People most likely to suffer severe side effects have a vaccine to protect them.
- This vaccine has proven very effective at keeping people alive.
- The latest (and dominant) variant is a demonstrated lower risk.
Now combine that with the effects of our COVID-19 countermeasures on society:
- Domestic abuse cases are up
- Education has been torpedoed for two straight years, disproportionately affecting the poor who lack access to study space, internet connectivity, and/or computers at home.
- Putting aside the academic costs, the price paid by children in their social development will only be seen with time.
- Substance abuse cases are up
- Obesity rates are increasing among children (and I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume the same for adults).
- Our collective mental health is an absolute disaster.
- Our physical health is taking a beating too, with people avoiding hospitals, Cancers are going undiagnosed until it's too late.
It's in the context of all of the facts that we have to weigh the social costs of things like closing schools, gyms, and other public venues, cancelling public events, and mandating vaccines for children. On a personal level, it seems prudent for people to dial back the fear. It's not 2019 anymore. We know more, we have more defences, the risks to our health are greatly diminished and that's something to celebrate.
We need to calm down and stop screaming at our leaders to do crazy things like lock the country down again. If that was going to work, we should have done it (properly) two years ago. Doing it today will only give you the illusion of safety, which frankly is the more dangerous public policy. We need to stop trying to force parents to vaccinate their 5 year olds and start reaching out to people who have been isolated throughout the pandemic. Let's address mental health, tend to the wounds of those of us who really got screwed by all of this: the poor, the working class, the global south, and take a sober second look at the state of our health care system.
I'm going to do my part. It's been two years: I can recognise the results of my own social conditioning and I don't like what I see. I'm going to make a concerted effort to break down the walls I've built around me over the last two years and I encourage you to do the same.
I'm going to continue wearing a mask indoors when I go shopping, because while the science on masks-as-public-policy is still pretty fuzzy, I think more than anything it's a recognition of consideration for the feelings of others. As time goes on though, I expect to lose the mask as well. Once the official guidance changes over here, I'm also going to start going back to the office -- provided my team members are of similar mind. I need to get back to my life, and now that we have the knowledge & tools at hand, it's finally the right thing to do.