It has been two years since the virus we now know as COVID-19 began as a stealth incubation in Wuhan, China before exploding onto the world stage. It has since taken 5.1 million lives, almost 800,000 of them in the United States and nearly 19,000 of those in North Carolina. None of us remain untouched by the pandemic, whether we have lost someone near and dear or whether we feel merely inconvenienced by COVID-19 restrictions.
The second year of holiday celebrations affected by the virus is now upon us. Experts and regular folks alike are realizing COVID-19 will be with us for the long haul and thinking about how we are going to live with it. The Dicksons, all thoroughly vaccinated and feeling fortunate to be so, will gather for Thanksgiving with a handful of family and friends in a way we did not last year. We will take precautions — knowing that everyone except a 2-year-old is vaccinated, and we will stay outdoors as much as we can, both cooking and eating. While we and millions of other Americans are indeed choosing to gather, we are also thinking about how to go about our lives knowing that COVID-19 is not the raging pandemic it once was but it remains a very real threat. We are going to learn to live with COVID risk. We will learn to accept it the same way we accept the risk of riding in vehicles of all sorts, participating in sports and engaging in other once-routine activities. So, what will that look like in our daily lives?
People in Asian counties have long worn face masks in public, because of both various illnesses and air pollution. Many medical experts expect Americans to do so for the foreseeable future in public places such as grocery stores, cabs, buses, planes and in gatherings of people we do not know.
People will likely continue working remotely at least some of the time and communicating electronically, in part because of health concerns and because we have discovered its convenience.
We are now able to ponder our lives ahead because while the United States remains less vaccinated than other developed nations, about 65% of us have had at least one shot and 60% have had more than one. That means that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is going down, especially in more vaccinated communities.
In addition, COVID-19 treatments are becoming more effective, meaning that this virus may eventually be just another illness and not one that takes over our lives.
Increasingly, experts are saying COVID-19 could become like seasonal flu, an illness no one wants and can be successfully vaccinated against.
All of which is to say that we are not going to wake up one morning to headlines screaming, “COVID-19 eradicated forever,” that is a dream not likely to come true.
The poet T.S. Eliot wrote that the world would end “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”
Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo has the same thoughts about COVID-19. As Nuzzo told the Washington Post recently, “It doesn’t end. We just stop caring. Or we care a lot less ... I think for most people, it just fades into the background of their lives.”
I look forward to that day, even if it means I mask up from time to time.