A recent CNN headline claims that “68% of Americans say a vaccine is needed before returning to normal life.” This, as expected, is fake news. The actual data shows that 68% of Americans believe a vaccine is a “very important” factor when they “think about their willingness to return to normal activities.” Obviously there is a clear and significant difference between “very important factor” and “needed.”
Still, this is troubling because it does show that many Americans seem to be at least hoping that they can wait until a vaccine arrives before they get back to living their lives. Even more so, it shows what the media wants us to think we think. What we can take from this headline is not that nearly 70% of Americans think a vaccine is absolutely necessary, but that CNN thinks we should think that a vaccine is absolutely necessary.
Notice the massive shift that has occurred, and not just in polls and CNN headlines. We were originally told that we needed to shut down for about two weeks. “15 days to slow the spread” was the slogan. But the interesting thing about “15 days to slow the spread” is the part where it says “15 days” and also “slow the spread.” It is well past 15 days now, and the spread has been slowed. “Flatten the curve” was the other motto, and we’ve done that too. The only places in America that haven’t flattened the curve are the places that never had a curve to flatten. Yet much of the country is still locked down. And the states that open are condemned as havens of ignorant, reckless, grandma-killers. What happened?
The goalposts have moved. Not just moved. They’ve been uprooted and placed in an entirely different stadium somewhere across town. Now we are hearing that the curve must be “squashed,” not merely flattened. California is to remain closed until there are zero COVID-19 deaths for two weeks at a time. Dr. Fauci warned during a Senate hearing on Tuesday that we should be wary of opening schools because children might not be “completely immune” to the effects of the virus. We are also told by the media and public health officials that re-opening cannot begin in earnest until we have instituted widespread “testing and tracing.” Overall, the objective has shifted from “flatten the curve” and “slow the spread” — again, both goals accomplished — to a vaguer idea of remaining locked away until we can have some sort of guarantee of safety or immunity.
A few notes of sanity must be interjected here:
(1) We cannot wait for a vaccine. There may never be one, first of all. Even if there is, it could be years away. We cannot wait that long. Our society will be in ruins if we try to keep it shutdown for that long, and the number of dead from homelessness, starvation, suicide, drug overdoses, etc., will far, far exceed even the most dire (and false) coronavirus predictions. Besides, people won’t comply. Many are already not complying. The idea that we should — much less that we can — keep hundreds of millions of Americans under mass house arrest for years is simply madness. So the Americans, whatever percentage they represent, who are dreaming of a day when they can emerge from their homes under the protection of a vaccine might as well push that thought from their minds. It’s not going to happen. You are going to have to get back to your life before then, or else you won’t have much of a life to get back to.
(2) “Testing and tracing” is not the holy grail that it is being made out to be. It is not realistic to expect that tests will be widely available to 330 million people anytime soon. And even if they were, so what? Let’s say every person in the country takes a test tomorrow. Great. What about next week? The week after? Next month? If a negative test is supposed to grant me permission to go about my day and participate in society, how long does that permission last? Will we have to take tests every day? Wouldn’t that require hundreds of billions of tests to be available, not to mention the capacity to distribute and process them? I am not saying that we shouldn’t test, or that testing doesn’t matter, but there is a certain fantastical ambiguity about the testing rhetoric that troubles me. It sort of seems that our elected officials really do want daily tests for everyone, forever. But who knows? All we have ever gotten from these people from the beginning of this crisis is “sort of seems.” There has been almost no clarity from anyone. But we are supposed to continue sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, putting everything on hold, until we are told otherwise. It can’t continue this way.
(3) There will always be coronavirus deaths, even with a vaccine. This stands to reason because there are always flu deaths — and quite a lot of them, in fact — even with a vaccine. Indeed, tens of thousands of people might always die of this virus every year, in perpetuity. We have to learn to live with that reality, just as we live with the reality of so many other diseases, not to mention all of the other fatal calamities that threaten us every day. We even have to live with the certainty that one of those calamities will befall us eventually, just as it will befall everyone we love, and everyone we have ever known. We are all going to die. This doesn’t mean that we should be suicidal or nihilistic, quite the opposite. It is all the more reason to live our lives with joy and vigor and courage because we will only be here for a short time. We may be able to momentarily extend our stay by hiding under our beds indefinitely, but then what kind of life would that be? Eventually we have to confront the risks, accept them, take whatever reasonable precautions we’re comfortable with, and get back to living again.