Covid Diary: Reflections at the start of Fall

The long (or did it seem short?  I’m not entirely sure.) and seemingly hot (it MUST have been hotter than normal…) summer is almost over, and so I thought I should reflect a bit on where we are.  Classes start up again at the UW on Wednesday, and I apparently have several Bucky masks waiting for me on campus if I ever find myself back there.  As I predicted, masks have finally become a pervasive consumer product.

The standard thinking — it seems held by everyone, though in direct contradiction to official line — is that the semester will not last long in-person.  Given that there is no universal and frequent testing for covid on campus, it will not take long for a limited outbreak to expand to unacceptable levels.  In the US, covid is simply too pervasive at this point to be put under control without dramatic behavioral changes.  It is unreasonable to expect students to wear masks all the time in dorms, or to refrain from socializing.  There will certainly be parties and other large social events off campus.  And why shouldn’t students act this way?  I take it that young people have largely ignored the lie that covid presents them with a level of risk that they are probably unwilling to accept.  Young people already do things that are a greater risk to them than covid.  The risk of their socializing is primarily on older people and we haven’t given them substantial reason to care about them; after all, these are the same people holding their student debt and constantly remarking about how they are privileged and lazy.  Any non-compliance of theirs’ is a failing of our society more than their rationality.

Though perhaps everything will turn out and UW will make it until the Thanksgiving finish-line without substantial outbreaks.  We shall see.  However, the early casualty of football does not bode well for the rest.

At this point the obsession over testing in the US is starting to appear misplaced.  Although testing is certainly important to indicate the start of an outbreak and to track its progress, at a certain level of infection there are simply too many people to test.  Our system of testing begins to buckle, no matter how much we have spent on it, and test results are returned too late to be of any good.  At that point — which is exactly where those in the US find themselves — people must generally assume at all times that they will encounter infected people.  They should also assume that they themselves are infected.  This means that we simply not act in ways that we could with low levels of infection and surveillance testing (the sort being done in South Korea, China, Japan and Europe).  Indoor dining is probably not safe in most areas, nor are social gatherings outside of a small “bubble.”  Life is going to be a cruel shadow of itself until these things change.

We are at this point in the US because Americans failed to take shutdowns seriously.  Shutdowns were supposed to cut back levels of infection, so that people could generally assume when they went out that they would not put themselves (or others) at risk of infection.  Wearing a mask when in inside public spaces would be enough of a reasonable precaution.  We could return to many of our previous activities.  However, in most areas people were too laxed in their behaviors.  They didn’t take the crises seriously.  Our lack of discipline, especially outside of major cities and among certain political groups, has doomed us to our current situation.

We might be enjoying our patio eating and pleasant mid-day walks now, but that will soon end in the north.  As winter arrives, our lives will become even more depressing.  Alternatively, we might just give up, and accept the sickness and death that comes with infection.  Yeah, that’s probably what we will do.  We are Americans after all — we don’t like feeling sad.