Talking “Post-Pandemic” Sounds The Same As “If I Won The Lottery”

I was talking to one of my friends about how he is hoping that his daughter will be able to start getting vaccinated soon. There was a bunch of discussion about how the vaccination effort is proceeding, discussion of how US government is failing its people, and how life changes when you can dial the pandemic anxiety down a bit after everyone around you is fully vaccinated. Not that you should throw aside all precautionary measures and join the growing throng of people pretending there isn’t a pandemic, but just that you can accept a small increase in risks taken because you’ve had a corresponding decrease in risk of severity. He talked about going out to restuarants again, safely as can be of course, and it got me thinking about what it would be like to be able to just go out to dinner again.

I’ve had a meal at a restuarant twice in the past two years. Once while on a camping trip with some friends and once after an outing with mostly the same group of friends. I followed all standard precautions despite them being largely unobserved by the people outside of my group as if stepping into a restaurant meant they were safe from Covid, and was left feeling stressed and anxious by the experience since I couldn’t enjoy my meal or even feel particularly comfortable. I’ve spent so long avoiding public gatherings inside buildings, I’ve spent so much time focusing on being distant, masked, and safe, that now I can’t help but feel alienated from a society that seems to be largely deciding that they’re done with the pandemic. As if deciding that actually means anything other than accepting the mounting death toll in the US.

I get that there is a line where the precautions one might take will have a greater toll on your well-being than the risks of Covid might. Last year, I stopped completely isolating myself and started spending time with some friends who were much more exposed than I was, risking Covid because staying isolated was having such a negative impact on me that potentially getting Covid was likely going to be less harmful in the long run. But it was also a decision that only negatively impacted me. I have no dependents, my friends were not at a greater risk because I was around, I am not an exposure vector for any vulernable people. All that gets more complicated if you have a child or are caring for an elderly person or are living with someone with a weakened immune system.

It just feels so strange to think about a potential future where I’m not doing that level of risk analysis every time I go to the grocery store. Or being able to decide that I am going to get breakfast at a quiet hour in a local diner so I can sit and read while I eat brunch and drink my coffee. I used to do that every week or two before the pandemic, just as a nice treat for myself. I also used to go to the movies a lot, alone or with friends, and thinking about a time when I will be able to do that again feels like imagining some kind of strange, unknowable future. So much of our ability to imagine the future or what might happen to us is based on the context of our lives and, right now, I just can’t think of those things as being more realistic than imagining what I’d do if I won the lottery.

One thing I’ve learned over the past two years is how to make peace with not knowing what might happen. How to roll with the punches and go with the flow as the unexpected plays out before me. There’s no way of knowing what tomorrow might bring into our lives, so I will concede that it is possible that the pandemic will burn out thanks to the rapid spread of omnicron and that it is also possible that the rise of variants will continue until there’s one that can entirely bypass the vaccines they’ve already produced. Both feel just as likely, though I think the math would probably say the latter is the more likely of the two given how the past few years have played out.

I wish I had a better thought to end on, but I really just can’t see a world where the pandemic has ended. Not because I don’t think it will or because I am pessimistically entrenched in the idea that this is just what life is like for us now, but because I can’t imagine what will happen between now and then.

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