The End of COVID and a Return to Normal

Today, Alberta dropped almost all of the COVID restrictions that we’ve been living under for the last near-two years. (I’m ignoring the boondoogle that happened in summer 2021 – The Best Summer Ever – that led to another wave, more panic and more deaths. I still lived by the guidelines.) This isn’t a complete remove of the restrictions – they still exist in health care scenarios and you still have to wear a mask on public transit – but for the general public it’s the removal of all the limitations on gathering and mask requirements.

I write this sitting in Cold Garden, a microbrewery in Calgary (my youngest, Choo Choo, is at a nearby art class for 90 minutes), looking around to a near-capacity taproom that hasn’t seen capacity in a very, very long time. There’s not a mask in sight. There’s no vaccine requirement. For all I know, several of the people in here are COVID-positive and I’m going to get sick as a result.

Which of course begs the question … actually, it begs two:

  1. Are we really ready to pull back from COVID?
  2. What the hell am I doing in a packed taproom if there’s still a lot of risk?

I’ll answer the second one first: Honestly, when I came in here, it wasn’t nearly this full. It’s like the City has suddenly realized it can go out and do … well, pretty much whatever it wants to do. It’s been a long time. I genuinely can’t blame anyone. But I’m sitting alone, and believe it or not, I wore a mask coming in. I’m not convinced I’ll stay the full 90 minutes.

Now for the bigger question: Are we ready? We’re certainly eager to get this behind us, but there is still high positivity and double-digit daily death rates. So we’re definitely not out of the woods, by any means. Our vaccination rates are fairly good (but also not great).

I still mask, I’m triple-vaxxed and will definitely sign up for a fourth when the opportunity presents itself. However, I too am very tired of the yo-yoing. And let me clear, I don’t mean the introduction, partial removal, then full restoration of preventions and restrictions, I mean the government’s approach to “Open for Business” – get back to normal as quickly as possible, no matter the cost.

I’m not talking financials, either. The economy is not a person, it is not something you come home to or talk to on the phone. It is a maniacal false god that politicans prostrate themselves in front of for the sake of a slice of the population who worries about their precious investments.

I’m talking about the people who have died for the sake of the economy, sacrificial lambs to satisfy someone’s bottom line. We need to return to normal so businesses won’t fail, so people won’t be on employment insurance. The Conservative governments don’t talk about this, of course, but they’re the single loudest voices for dropping restrictions. The more left-leaning governments are more worried about the public health.

So more people continue dying. As of today, just under 4,000 people have died in Alberta from COVID. (And no, don’t give me that crap about commorbities. That’s a distraction. If you’re hit by lightning and die, it’s the lightning that did you in, not the Stage 4 cancer. You’d have lived at least a bit longer if wasn’t for the extra condition.) That’s 4,000 mothers and fathers and children and uncles – fellow citizens who had every expection that the government wouldn’t put someone’s profits ahead of their lives.

Humanity has almost no value for individual lives. That’s a very broad statement that entirely disregards racism, classism, colonialism, and all the other isms that further devalue life. This is plainly visible in war, where we send our (unprivileged) youth to die for political gain, something we haven’t stopped witnessing in over 100 years. But it shows up in “peacetime” (when have we ever actually witnessed this) efforts, such as the building of the transcontinental railroads, the construction of crucial infrastructure such as Tower Bridge or the Hoover Dam, or even when the police decide to stop a coloured man in the streets.

We’ve seen a similar disregard for the individual throughout COVID, all over the world. Nearly six million, worldwide. Barely a tenth of the estimated deaths in World War II, but then that was an armed conflict with the sole direction to kill every moving thing; this is the willful neglegence that shrugged as people died.

I don’t think we’ve come to terms with that. Very few of us are truly aware of the impact, unless we had a family member become a COVID statistic. We’ve been more concerned about our own convenience or comfort. We’ve joked about what we wore at home during Zoom meetings, but in reality we all ached to get out of the house and go back to doing the things we used to do. We stopped caring about the numbers and cared more about going to the pub with friends.

What’s worse, in a few months, we won’t care at all. We’ll be back to normal again. COVID will still be present, it will still be killing people, but it’ll be a harsher form of the flu, which also kills people that we don’t know or care about. A few years from now, it’ll be a hazy memory and we’ll think: “Oh, that wasn’t really so bad”, and we’ll have the same perspective about someone coming into the office with COVID as we will of someone who came in with the sniffles.

There will be some change, yes. It’s already happened. Companies running without physical offices, advancement with medicine as a result of the greatest single clinical trial of all time (okay, yes, there were actual mRNA trials before we got the vaccine, but you can’t deny the sheer amount of data gleaned from such a massive rollout), the improvement in virtual technologies (taking meetings from a beach that has decent signal is now old hat), and our ability to conquer distances without a physical component (six timezone meetings were, once upon a time, absolute hell). But we’ll still want to meet people in person, we’re still allowing the media to focus on the grossly uninformed instead of the terribly educated, and we’ll never stop travelling.

We’re desperate, but we’re not ready. We’ll leap into this freedom and realize, probably in 3-4 weeks, that we jumped too soon. And more people will die. But we won’t do anything about it. We’ll “live with it”. Pandemics don’t stop suddenly, they dry up like a puddle in the sun: shallow parts go quickly, but the deep parts linger. Such will be our recovery. It will be a long time yet before the WHO declares this pandemic over (and isolated epidemics will remain).

I do wonder if this will be one of the fastest pandemics, though: quickest to begin (only four months) and quickest to end (at least by definition and declaration)?

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