Memes have become the lifeblood of the internet; simplistic text placed over a recurring image; a new form of comedy making light of moments in time. The word itself originated from scientist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. At the time, he was actually talking about our genes’ ability to spread by means of imitation from person to person within a culture that often carries “symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.
The CDC’s flip-flopping on COVID guidelines have now become meme-able. This week, the “CDC recommends” meme took the internet by storm as the public at large is finally coming around to the realization that many of the “guidelines” given have been complete and utter guesswork; a Simon Says for the hypochondriacs of the world.
Journalist Matt Taibbi joked that the arrival of new COVID variants has been reported in ways that recall the classic “Africanized killer beer” media panics of last year. In the first week of December, the WHO released a new record-scratch moment when they said, “So you were probably thinking you could go back to normal life… ”
At the time of the initial announcement of this new variant, what tended to be buried at the very end of the reporting on this new Omicron variant was that there had been no deaths.
However, if you regularly watched the news and skimmed the front pages of our national press coverage, this new strain was something for all to fear –flights canceled all over the country, people waiting in lines for hours for COVID tests. As of today, almost everyone I know either has Omicron – or is stuck at home because everyone else has Omicron.
We’re at a stage where yes, the virus is spreading rapidly, but it’s also relatively harmless in its present form, particularly if you are fully vaccinated. Cases are on the rise but the instance of death without pre-existing conditions is extremely rare. Amidst all the drama, the CDC to their credit did reduce the quarantine time in half, from ten days to five, a surprising common-sense nod to let society get back to its old ways.
We will all get COVID at some point. I still have not gotten it to my knowledge, but I have never thought I could “beat” it. I didn’t think that pre-vaxx, and I don’t think it post-vaxx. I’m not anxious about it, when it happens it will be fine. This is a much more pleasant way to live than being afraid and anxious all the time.
We also know that cloth masks provide minimal protection against airborne COVID particles. While they may provide some protection, at this point, masks have become political theater. When you can acceptably take your mask off because you have a muffin in your hand that kind of sheds light on the lunacy of the rules, does it not? Even Dr. Leana Wen, one of the regular public health voices on CNN and former President of Planned Parenthood, said this week that “Cloth masks are not appropriate for this pandemic. It’s not appropriate for Omicron. It was not appropriate for Delta, Alpha, or any of the previous variants either because we’re dealing with something that’s airborne.”
The particular act of mask-wearing is often less of a protection strategy against a once potentially-deadly virus, but rather a way to keep the crazies away. The majority of those wearing masks do it as an act of anxiety against public perception rather than one of personal protection. If we truly cared about protection, we would require the much-beneficial N-95 masks.
I fear that mask-wearing and many of the COVID “protocols” will go the way of the TSA after 9/11. Twenty years after that day, we are still performing the political theater of taking our shoes off at the airport, all in the guise of “public safety.” Will masks also become a pervasive part of society in which no one is allowed to question the validity and effectiveness?
I fear that in light of the global pandemic, The White House will form some form of bureaucracy (similar to the TSA) in an effort to corral future disease outbreaks. This hypothetical bureaucracy will thus enforce things like quarterly boosters, vaccination status ID cards, contact tracing, quarantine timelines, travel restrictions, pharmaceutical protocols, and the like. A “solution” to our misguided responses over the past two years. These proposed solutions will appear to help curb the problems but will really just be a band-aid, or possibly duct tape, to the larger issue. The right solution is accelerated diagnostics (testing), drugs (for treatment), and vaccines.
Recall that only five months ago, talk of “vaccine passports” made you sound like a conspiracy theorist, but in New York City if you want to eat a quesadilla at an Applebees, you must first show your papers. This policy exists despite the fact that we now know vaccines do not stop transmission. Let Kyrie play in Brooklyn!
From a scientific standpoint, we have done extraordinary things in an even more extraordinary timeline. Vaccines have done an incredible job reducing the time one is infectious, which has helped protect others. They have also significantly reduced the odds of hospitalization and death.
From a policy standpoint, we have caused more harm than good. Strict vaccine mandates have caused people to lose their jobs, their businesses, and livelihood despite not yet knowing the full extent of vaccine risk. Frequent lockdowns killed small businesses, increased addiction rates, and harmed overall mental health. Time away from school has hurt children’s development and suicide attempts among teens have skyrocketed in the last year.
Our country is built on freedom – quite literally. It may sound like an eye-roll diatribe at this point, but it is vital to our ethos that the citizens of this great country are constantly reminded of the dangers of government overreach. It’s why immigrants travel from great distances to make it here. Criticize Florida governor Ron DeSantis all you want, but he treated its citizens like adults, educated them on the dangers of the virus, kept businesses and schools open, encouraged early treatment over vaccine mandates, and allowed people to make their own decisions.
All of this is to say that government overreach is actually not my greatest fear. It’s not fascism or socialism that I think will take over our country, but rather apathetic anarchy. Trust in all major institutions is down tremendously – schooling, government, media, tech, finance, big pharma. My fear is that half of society will remain faithful in trusting these institutions (double masking while outdoors) while the other half will ignore these institutions (fake news). The normal of us in between these extremes will suffer as a consequence. The state you live in will determine the quality of your life.
My hope is that this Omicron variant is truly as mild as it seems and that we can slowly start to loosen our vice grip on hysteria. Masks will slowly go by the way-side as knowledge about spread increases. Offices will re-open, travel will become normal and life, as we knew it, can carry on. However, deep down, I know that may not be the case ever again.