Waiting for the Announcement

How will we know the pandemic is over? Just as there was no formal announcement of the pandemic’s start, it is unlikely that there will be an announcement of the pandemic’s end.

At first, the Sickness was completely local: trouble in far-off China in a B-List city; an Elvis sighting not to be concerned about. Then the virus was in the State of Washington, a local concern, nothing to be concerned about. Then a wild break-out in rural Italy in towns whose name no one longer remembers; still nothing to be too worried about. Then an Iranian health minister collapsed at a press conference.

Then the Sickness was everywhere; the response no longer local. National governments sounded their strategies in cacophony; some calming, reassuring; others welding doors to keep people at home. Scientists contradicted each other. Physicians contradicted each other. With no trust in the government, amateur epidemiologists conducted their own research, their findings amplified by the Internet, while the real scientists continued to contradict each other. There was no time to conduct the years’ long studies they demanded.

The closing of schools started slowly but soon all doors were shut. Parents who didn’t know a numerator from a carburetor were assigned the task of home schooling their children. At best, also these unqualified new teachers could do was point to the television, the Internet and their children’s unread schoolbooks before giving up.

Flying an airplane was dangerous, the recirculated air could carry the Sickness. Business trips were canceled, hotels closed, vacations were impossible. AirBnB built its business on home sharing, but to take a possibly infected stranger into your home was unthinkable. Before the first half was over, the number of the new dead rivaled the number lost in horrible wars.

There were no vaccines. There were no treatments. Ventilators were desperately needed and in short supply. People could only hope that the virus would burn itself out. TV scientists had no answer and people amused themselves blaming China. Others, egged on by their new like-minded Internet friends, denied that the Sickness even existed, or if it did exist it was just the flu. And the mortality factor was low. And the R Number, a term in fashion, like 2000’s “hanging chad” was such that soon we would have “herd immunity,” another fashionable term soon to return to disuse.

The only subject the world’s governments could agree on dealt with popular nomenclature. Calling the virus the Wuhan virus invited acts of violence against Chinese citizens. A new variant that arose in India could incite violence and prejudice, not to mention cautionary distancing from the Desi. Before HIV was isolated, Haitians were thought to be a vector of that disease in official announcements which did the Haitians no favors. Greek letters were chosen instead. The Wuhan flu became Alpha, the Desi variant Delta. Only the Greeks complained, pointing out that there were other alphabets that could have been chosen.

Delta is more contagious and affected younger people more than Alpha. Before long, talk of herd immunity started to fade. In August, 2020, the first international tests of a Chinese vaccine were conducted. By the end of the year, there were more vaccines coming on-line and squabbling about the merits of each. Alpha was no longer the problem. The old rushed to be vaccinated ignoring the pseudo-scientists who warned against inoculation without FDA approval. The same people who when young had no trouble swallowing an unknown white pill to dance the night away warned against new vaccine technologies.

By March, 2021 the end was in sight. Alpha was in decline, vaccinations were increasing, ventilators were sitting unused, and president who was all but personally responsible for the spread of the virus—so they said—was out of office. The airlines announced a return to summer travel. Lockdowns and restrictions eased. Soon things would be back to normal.

Delta didn’t cooperate. Numbers were quickly back up to where they had been a year before. Lockdowns were re-imposed. Once again, there was no uniform response. Fourteen hundred school boards issued contradictory decisions about masking, social distancing and school openings. If local officials made an unpopular decision it was easy to point to a different approach taken somewhere else and accuse the local official of being a terrorist, communist, anarchist or other ‘ist’ de jour.

The new American president begged the country to get vaccinated, claiming that the continued restrictions were due to the stubbornness of those who refused to get vaccinated, with the MSM helpfully pointing out that these belonged to the president’s opposing political party.

What the government could not do, the private sector is doing. Companies began to require vaccinations as a condition of continued employment. School boards will add Covid-19 vaccinations to the list of required vaccinations as soon as the FDA approves, on a temporary basis, the vaccination of children and adolescents.

Some State governments resist this tide. No matter. Vaccination will be the norm. Unless a variant worse than Delta comes along, the world will slowly crawl out of this pandemic hole.

There will be no formal announcement. No “Mission Accomplished” photo opportunity. No newspaper printing a photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. Instead, fewer people will wear masks, except those coughing or sneezing and no one will be surprised that they didn’t stay home. The number of remote workers will decline but will not disappear. Fewer days in the office may become the norm. Working from home will no longer be the anomaly it once was.

Finally realizing that publicity turns science into politics, physicians and epidemiologists will try to keep treatments between themselves and their patients. As the number of the ill goes down, the Sickness will be just another condition of human existence. Annual Covid-19 shots will become the norm. The vaccines will get better. The treatments will become more effective. In time, the pandemic will only become a feint memory before being entirely forgotten.

But expect no announcement.