Where are we now? This time last year, even then-President Donald Trump knew the virus was a “plague” that “rips you apart.” Many of us tried to hold it together, hoping as the summer of 2020 rolled around that the worst was over, hunkering down as much as we could but with the respite of warmer weather allowing us some comfort. But hundreds of thousands didn’t make it to see the autumn leaves last year, as the pandemic went into overdrive in the United States: 200,000 dead by September, 300,000 dead by December, 400,000 dead by Trump’s last day in the White House in January 2021. As of May 1, according to the CDC, we’ve lost 578,945 people.
But there is hope. Physicians and nurses have gotten better at treating Covid-19, even if the drugs we have against the disease are still few. And the best news has been the most surprising. A year ago I was pessimistic about the prospect of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development, citing the scientific obstacles that even money wouldn’t likely overcome. But I was wrong and am happy to say so. We now have multiple effective vaccines against this plague, 115.5 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, over 35 percent of the U.S. population.
But where does that leave us? We’re in the space between right now, a purgatory between the hell of 2020 and some future post-Covid. This limbo is disorienting. Some of us have been vaccinated and wondering what we can do now. Can we see friends and family, resume some normalcy in our lives? How comfortable are you crafting a zone of normalcy, knowing others are still facing the risk of infection and death around you, and that if you are Black or Latino, you’re less likely to have been vaccinated than your white peers?
This isn’t meant to guilt-trip anyone who has been immunized; it’s a plea to realize you have a job to do to ensure that your community is fully covered, not just you and your family and friends. The goal is community protection – herd immunity – since vanquishing the virus means not leaving sanctuaries of transmission for SARS-CoV-2 in pockets across America. This is a political project, because if there is any lesson of pandemics past – and the long history of American health crises – it’s that we are happy to live with health disparities in the United States as long as they are someone else’s misery.
It’s completely understandable. We are all done with this shit. Even those who have been able to afford to stay home are just burnt out from a year of isolation. But changes in human behavior, often egged on by irresponsible politicians, are prolonging this crisis. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but foot by foot we keep extending that tunnel in front of us, giving SARS-CoV-2 new hosts.
The pandemic is going to persist globally for a while, with the political and economic forces that drive inequity in normal times creating winners and losers once again.