Are We Doing Covid Wrong?

Did we get Covid wrong from the get-go? Did we get it right at the beginning, but now it’s wrong? What seems obvious to some is not so obvious to me. I don’t think we’ll know which approach to the pandemic was best for a long time. Even when we’re able to use our 20/20 hindsight, the questions we ask will surely influence our conclusions. Eventually, we’ll have to factor in impacts on the economy, mental health, education, and social cohesion. So much more than just death rates. 

I have not been one to doubt the vaccines, but I have mixed feelings about the mandates. That’s only because I’m not sure we can actually enforce them, and a policy we can’t enforce seems like a bad idea. I’m all for the mandates in health care settings and retirement homes or nursing homes because patients and residents are so vulnerable and we rely on employees who live with others who can bring the virus home to them and then to us. And yet, with staffing shortages, some hospitals are backing off of their mandates. 

Some of the vaccine resistance initially was from people who felt they had legitimate fears about the speed with which the vaccines were developed. These were not committed anti-vaxxers; they didn’t reject all vaccines. So fair enough. But after millions of people had received the vaccines, after evidence accrued that side-effects were rare and protection was real, it was time to give up the resistance. Some did.

Some health care workers have held out, stubbornly rejecting the jabs. Why? I’ve had conversations with a few health care workers about many things, including vaccines, over the years, and one thing I’ve learned is that their education (let’s face it, these are often very smart people even if they are not all MDs) gives them confidence in their ability to make sound judgements on all manner of things. I think this is true of a lot of people with degrees. And I think this points to a much bigger problem: how do we know which experts to follow? I am aware of just how many doctors (of various kinds) and other “experts” are pontificating online about the best ways to deal with Covid. We all have to decide who’s credible and who isn’t. I would just hope that we don’t choose Covid experts on the basis of political affiliations.

Some people, perhaps sensing a culture war opportunity, have decided to focus on the possibility that trial data was manipulated, that side-effects were not being acknowledged, that alternatives existed that had no risks. We went from those claims to assertions of “bodily autonomy” as an issue. Never mind that the “my body, my choice” chants were from many of the same people who want to overturn Roe v Wade. Women’s bodies don’t count for them, only that other body incubating inside them. Never mind that my vaccine protects not only me, but you as well, from a premature death. Ah, well, culture war issues are not the place to search for logic.

My reflections on Pandemic policies go well beyond vaccines, though. I understood the lockdowns in the spring of 2020. We had so little knowledge of this new virus. I accepted the cautious approach even though it was clear to see that lockdowns were definitely hurting a lot of innocent people. Assistance programs helped some, but not all, who were impacted. And even if there was compensation for those who were laid off,  at some point, prolonged unemployment for any reason takes a toll. When we look back on the impact of Covid, I hope we take a long, hard look at the pros and cons of the lockdowns. Actually, we should probably start talking about them now, because we’re not out of the woods yet. Before we think of more lockdowns, we should look at whatever information we have already about their impacts.

I don’t know what to think about school closures. Surely there will be disparate impacts on kids. Some have done well with online school from home, some not so much. But surely, being separated from friends for so long is not a good thing. Still, I’ve read that many parents who had never considered home schooling are now embracing it, either because they didn’t like what they saw regarding the curricula, or they actually enjoyed home schooling, or they felt their kids just did better at home. A great natural experiment unfolds, though, because not all communities closed their schools due to Covid, nor for the same amount of time; mask policies on reopening have varied, so we should be able to assess these decisions eventually.

I think my biggest concern is that we (Americans) fed divisions at a time when we needed to be more cohesive. Of course, people chose which narrative to follow, but at the outset of the pandemic we were a very divided nation. I, like many, hoped that the common enemy, Covid, would bring a pause in political warfare. Then, after the 2020 election, I hoped divisions would diminish, which, alas, they did not. So how can we manage a pandemic in a nation where millions were determined to not cooperate with “the state” for any reason. If we had not locked down, would people have withheld some of their vitriol? If we hadn’t created vaccine passports, would people have loved their neighbors, vaccinated or not? If masks had not been required in so many places would more people have complied? 

I wonder if part of the reason things are so bad at this point in time is that Covid has not been as deadly as we feared, and medical professionals have worked themselves to the point of exhaustion to save lives of those who did get deathly ill. They’ve tried many treatments to see what could help. Early variants did not spread as easily as Delta and Omicron. Since it didn’t seem as bad as it might have been, it was much easier, I think, for some to downplay it, to ignore it. Still, I really can’t understand the people who politicized Covid in the early days. When there was so much we didn’t know, it made sense to me to play it safe for a while. The challenge has been if, when, how to change course. But when a chunk of the population refuse to take any precautions, no policy can work, whether stringent or lenient. We just seem determined to make a huge mess of this.

And unrelated (or maybe not), I think Dr. Fauci has outlived his usefulness. He’s now a primary focus for all who would divide us. While neither saint nor villain, it really is time for new blood in his position. Let someone new tackle this giant conundrum – AND focus on Long-Covid and other little understood conditions!

I think this is really hard, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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