I’ve made peace with the idea of getting an eventual breakthrough infection myself — my risk for severe outcomes seems low and similar to other things I do in life — but I would hate to pass Covid-19 to someone else. I’ve been using rapid tests, especially before meeting people to spend time with them indoors, despite their outrageous price of around $12 or more a pop. I’ve urged everyone I know who is higher risk to get a booster. My workplace mandates vaccines for everyone working in the office without an exemption, and masks indoors where social distancing is not possible. I wear surgical masks in offices, stores and restaurants nowadays, but if I felt spooked about conditions somewhere, I’d put on my N95.
So Thanksgiving is on, and this year even the youngest at the table will have had a first shot, and the few higher risk people have had a booster. Yes, I’ll be breaking out the rapid tests, and I have an appropriate-size HEPA filter in my house.
But you can see how individualized this all is. It’s based on my working conditions, the tests I can afford, HEPA filters I know how to buy and can pay for and vaccines abundant in the country where I live.
My household may be the exception, not the norm.
When the pandemic is finally over, what will remain is not only 800,000 or more Americans dead but also a country too riven to appreciate our survival and a world where even the more privileged are surrounded by avoidable death and suffering.
In her book “March of Folly,” the historian Barbara Tuchman describes civilizations that collapsed not because of insurmountable challenges but because “wooden-headedness” took over: Those in charge were unable to muster the will and vision to make the necessary course corrections in the face of difficulties.
But that’s not the only possibility.
After the horrors of World Wars I and II and the Great Depression between them, there was rebuilding of democracies, including constructing a public sphere geared toward preventing the rise of fascism, an expanded safety net and great reductions in income inequality. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t what you’d guess would come next, looking at the smoldering ruins of 1945.
Arguably, it’s our successes that have lulled us. Few remember all that or what it was like to fear polio or smallpox. Covid-19 was a reminder that humanity’s upper hand on infectious diseases was an illusion.