Frustrations are hitting a fevered pitch, and the sentiment “I’M DONE WITH THIS!” along with the current—and the temporary—valley of the post-omicron wave has morphed into a widespread “COVID IS OVER!” mentality.
I get it, you’re done. I’m done. To speak with hyperbole as a past President*, “There’s no one that wants to be done more than me.” I’m spiritually and physically drained. Enough already.
“Shouldn’t we be done, though?” we smartly ask. I mean, things ARE different now. We’ve realized, basically since Delta, that the best we can do is take the venom out of the bite. The problem is there’s still a snake to contend with, and at times, we’re standing way too close to the pit.
The sentiment attached to “COVID is over” is very much correct. The phrasing and our resultant actions or words are not.
In fact, I’d argue that we are all off track, sitting on our opposing ends of the COVID-paradigm spectrum, just vibrating in place. We need to rebuild and progress, yet our brains are so broken we sabotage those efforts.
The point of today’s article is to get us in tune and unified. This only happens with an admission of reality—due from BOTH ends of the spectrum.
Let’s discuss briefly why these sentiments—wrought with apathy—are dangerous, what the proper mindset should be, and specifics that must be acknowledged and implemented so we can properly transition out of our 2020 mindset.
There is No Spoon. Wait, Yes There Is.
COVID has no end. There is no “post-pandemic” on our foreseeable timeline. Sorry, Charlie.
Most people became exhausted with fear early on, either lashing out or retreating away. Coping with COVID was tough for most, but I’d have to say that many folks held on tight for some time.
That’s over. Exhaustion has led to apathy amongst those who’ve done all the things: isolated, masked, vaxxed, boosted, and tested their way safely to 2022.
Friendly reminder to those who truly did the right things to date: waving a white flag followed by complete inaction is dangerous.
There is no guarantee a new wave or variant couldn’t get you or a loved one very sick or even cause death. The long-held belief that viruses “want” to become weaker to infect more people has been debunked by COVID itself. At the time of this writing, the signals of an April wave are becoming more evident. How can you be done, if it’s not done with you?
The wrong mindset is “I’m ignoring this COVID thing.” How bloody wrong that mindset is has been known from the start, and millions of people globally have paid the ultimate price for that belief.
Why—even if the probability is small—undo all of the proper pandemic measures you may have done and join the ranks of the COVID-deniers, especially now?
The wrong mindset is “I’m going to fear COVID as I did before we understood it.” There will be no off switch. There will be no day that many of us, especially high-risk folks, will not feel vulnerable.
Why waste your life, miss great opportunities, and expend energy inefficiently for no significant gain?
Here is the proper mindset: we are experiencing a pandemic and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, but this virus is now better understood and we have a number of tools to protect us and help us navigate. We must learn to live alongside COVID, and always pay it the proper respect it is due.
If we can learn to properly live alongside COVID, we can live 90% of the “old” normal… most of the time. That also means, as we illustrated in Now is the New Normal (quite succinctly, I might add!), there will be times when we have to sacrifice.
The first step in our transition “back” or “forward” or towards being distracted by buying stuff again, is an admission of the last 6 paragraphs. Reread them.
The second step is to take a hard look at some of the good, bad, and ugly of COVID policy, then stop the nonsense and do more of the proven.
Do This COVID Stuff, Not This
I believe it will be possible to get a majority of us back together and on the same page if we can be honest about how we continue to do silly things in the name of safety, while simultaneously highlighting things that work that are being systematically downplayed, ignored, or lied about.
I believe we can get more buy-in while chipping away at this apathy if we make a number of smarter changes, right now.
First, Stop Doing Dumb Stuff
What has to end first and foremost are these “sacred cows” of mitigation strategies and CYA practices that have little to no benefit—or have evidence of harm.
Plastic Barriers. While I saw the value of having a proper physical barrier between you and an essential worker to stop the spittle from flowing, most of this is implemented so poorly it’s ridiculous and nearly all of it is unnecessary now. These were OK-ish pre-vaccine, pre-mask mandates, and when quality masks were scarce. Take these silly things down.
Temperature Check. Fever hasn’t correlated to possible COVID infection since like April 2020. My body temperature isn’t always 97.3, so why is it registering as such everywhere I go?
COVID Attestations. “Do you solemnly swear you haven’t gone anywhere, done anything, or seen anyone?” “Do you pinky promise you don’t really have COVID right now?” This is CYA nonsense, and who knows if this would hold up in court in either direction. Do you think a business could get sued for ‘allowing’ someone with COVID in? Does having a pile of paper show you are not ‘at fault’?
Garbage Masks. The “All masks are the same” public policy just contributes to doubts and adds actual substance to naysayers’ arguments. Improperly fitted N95s are far superior to the lace underwear people wear on their faces.
Unjustified Mask Shaming. Last week I highlighted masks and tried to give folks permission to make mask decisions personally (this is outside times of mandates, and I argue that mask mandates should be implemented far sooner than they often are). But, if we are outside mandate periods, you can and should wear a great N95 and do all the other things to keep yourself safe if you want to. Save the scoffing for the non-compliance during surges.
Zero COVID. The mentality that we should lockdown to kill COVID is wrong. See: China and how they’re doing with Omicron. It takes far too much work, asks way too much of us—especially now since we know so much more and especially since vaccines work REALLY, REALLY well.
Unhelpful Rhetoric. COVID isn’t over. It’s great that you’re tired, but apathy is wrong. You are very unlikely to die from COVID if you are boosted and make smart decisions, so don’t beat up on people with a higher risk tolerance. Let people make the decisions for their own lives, but understand that there is a large intersection of our personal worlds and our public ones. Be consistent, and remember your decisions have consequences outside of the world inside your head.
Second, Reinforce Smart Stuff
Accessibility of Effective Interventions
The smartest thing we’ve done is make COVID vaccines free for all. The second best thing we could have done (since we didn’t have the National Guard run the vaccination effort) was to PROPERLY compensate providers.
There were systems in place that covered vaccines for the uninsured (and even undocumented) as well as provider relief funds to stop the normal insurance games of “we don’t pay for that service” or “we pay for that service, but we don’t want to pay you” or “the patient has to pay out of pocket.”
Inside baseball: This was the first time in my career and in my 16 years as an owner that I knew I could serve as many people as possible without penalty or awkward “this isn’t covered despite its importance, this system is bullshit, give me money” conversations.
Those programs, as is the American way, are ending. The Uninsured Assistance program for testing and vaccinations ends April 5th, and I’m sure provider protections go away too. How many folks will pay out of pocket for a COVID vaccine or test? How many providers will break their backs helping as many people far from home (like we did), if we are not going to be properly compensated for it?
The fact that at-home tests and quality masks are available at nearly every corner drug store and municipality is amazing. Had this been true since 2020, life would be VERY different.
Retracting these protections and restricting access will only harm our recovery, as it will take far too long to prime these pumps again to get these interventions flowing again.
Make tests and vaccines free—FOREVER.
Proliferation of Quality Studies and Content
Every institution—from CDC and equivalent in nations globally to trade groups across all disciplines such as the American Pharmacist’s Association—were KILLING it with handouts, downloads, videos, and content talking about COVID.
With the understanding there still is a lot to be desired with harmony and coordination of messaging, we need accessible, shareable, meme-level content being peppered onto the masses.
“Masks don’t work?” BS! Here’s our currently maintained table of all published mask data, whether it is modeling or population/clinical, and the peer-judged quality of each whitepaper.
“Why get a booster if I’m going to get omicron anyway?” Here are 19 reports from hospitals across the country showing how unvaccinated, vaccinated, and boosted people fared against omicron, separated by demographics (which allows us to relate better to the material).
“Omicron isn’t that bad?” Just google COVID and Google themselves have county-by-county dashboards on cases, deaths, and more over time.
In a world where information is at our fingertips and misinformation is in our ears and back of our mind, we MUST win the war of credibility and content.
Adapt the Rhetoric for Reality
As my very smart wife has said from the beginning, “this is the NOVEL coronavirus, meaning brand new and we know nothing about it.”
COVID has changed quickly, and so has our understanding of it. This can make even the most trained person’s head spin.
We need our messages to reflect what’s real now: COVID is still here and we CAN live alongside of it.
Don’t say “Mask mandate is lifted!” in a celebratory manner as if we’ve conquered something. Say “We’re past the peak of this wave, so we can now remove the current mask mandate—for now.”
Be smarter and more complete with the messaging.
Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming… PLEASE!
Here’s a tip for surviving your next family gathering: avoid controversial topics such as politics or COVID and instead focus on something simple like religion. It will make for an easier dinner.
Temperatures are HOT. Conflict and outrage are addictions being fed by social media and the 24-hour news cycle. This alone is exhausting, but the constant exposure to pandemic profiteers (more on this next week), sensational COVID content dominating our days, and ineffective, nonsensical policies and “mitigation” strategies have led us to a place of straight DGAF. It’s been too much for too long. It’s been so much that we’ve lost the forest for the trees.
The Buddhists and other wise folks would say that the future is just a useful illusion. It doesn’t exist; all we have is the current moment.
There is no post-COVID future. That concept is NOT a useful illusion, it’s a delusion.
This moment, and this article is all we’ve currently got. I mean this moment to be the line in the sand that we all cross together.
It’s time to break these loops. The loops of fear and dread or doubt and cynicism. This is the point we can take COVID seriously, but not too seriously.
We can successfully move towards a future we all want: where COVID is not dominating every waking minute of our experience.
To do so, we must lean away from this harmful apathetic rhetoric, keep it real as it pertains to the “dumb” mitigation strategies and mindsets, and really lean into harmonious, researched, digestible, and REASONABLE information.
It’s time we stop.
One more COVID-related piece, then I’m done. Phew.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth