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The Pandemic is Dead, Long Live the Pandemic
President Biden promised to end the pandemic; then, he presided over 700,000 deaths
On January 19, 2021, Joe Biden stood alongside his wife and family, alongside his newly minted Vice President Kamala Harris and her family too, and publicly mourned. 400 lamps lit up the reflecting pool where a crowd assembled somberly in remembrance of the 400,000 people who had then died of COVID, under President Trump. Abraham Lincoln, all stone and sobriety, presided over the proceedings from his 20-foot-chair. The assembled dignitaries wore high-quality masks. The First Lady was chic in a purple coat.
“To heal, we must remember,” proclaimed the President. “It’s hard, sometimes, to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
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NPR, the New York Times, and every major media outlet showered praise on the incoming President for doing what Trump had failed to do: acknowledge the dead. “The 5 Most Moving Moments of Joe Biden’s Tribute to the 400,000 Lives Lost to Coronavirus” said the headline in Vogue. But of course, there was something else Donald Trump’s pandemic “strategy” failed to do, a legacy carried forward by the current administration: preventing those hundreds of thousands of deaths in the first place.
Less than 2 years later, nearly 700,000 Americans have died of COVID under Joe Biden, bringing our total death toll to just under 1.1 million Americans. It is the highest in the developed world. Life expectancy dropped again last year, while China’s rose and surpassed the average American lifespan for the first time. The only lights shining around the reflecting pool when another 100,000, 400,000, 500,000 died were those of blithe, maskless tourists’ camera flashes. On the day the 900,000 mark was crossed, the New York Times informed us (below the fold) that we had moved on. On the day a million died, a brief statement which mentioned vaccines- not masks- was issued.
Joe Biden’s heart, we were told, went out to all those who were “still struggling,” though the reasons for that continued struggle were not touched upon.
As the pandemic rages on and millions suffer the ravages of this disease during both the acute and long-term phases, long COVID, cognitive damage, and spiking cardiac incidents following COVID infection are not mentioned. In fact, they are so little spoken of, that I know liberals turning to anti-vaccine conspiracies to explain the obvious spike in sudden deaths, despite the many studies that demonstrate that COVID itself is far, far more dangerous than any vaccine, or the fact that these outcomes were noted prior to the vaccine’s invention.
Coverage of ongoing worker shortages in every (yes, every) frontline industry, ballooning inflation, supply chain issues and overflowing Pediatric ICUs carefully avoid any allusion to the unmentionable disease.
If there have been any major differences in the Trump and Biden COVID strategies they can be summed up as style over substance. Prior to his election, Joe Biden campaigned on an “end” to the pandemic, but given his proclamation that “COVID is over” a few weeks ago, we now know that his definition of “end” is merely a pandemic that is no longer spoken of. When 220,000 Americans had died of COVID under Trump, then-candidate Biden tweeted that such a crime merited resignation.
His defenders loudly proclaim that it is “impossible” to get COVID under control, but I don’t recall seeing that messaging on any campaign materials, on the buttons, tee-shirts, and banners which promised an end to Trump’s eugenicist reign. Joe Biden had no problem mourning 400,000 dead bodies for political points; the 700,000 who’ve died since are under the floorboards, behind the curtains, and stuffed into closets. Those who died under Trump were victims; those who’ve died since, we are told, are guilty.
As we enter winter of 2022, our third pandemic winter, we face down dangerous new variants without masking, testing, improved ventilation, or boosters; we are, frankly, in worse shape than ever before.
First, we must acknowledge that our vaccines are not strong enough to end or even adequately control the pandemic on their own. During the initial rollout, the administration insisted that breakthrough infections were extraordinarily rare, a falsehood we were all forced to confront firsthand as one by one, our friends and family fell ill around us. Next, they declared victory on the fourth of July, celebrating our independence from COVID even as it rallied to the battlefront in its most deadly incarnation yet; the dreaded Delta wave. It was Biden’s “Mission Accomplished” moment, a darkly ironic proclamation that would be funnier if it hadn’t killed so many people.
By the time Delta hit, a massive strategy pivot was overdue. It became clear that breakthrough infections not only were not rare, they were the norm. It also became clear that this virus mutated quickly; much more quickly than we’d hoped, and that these mutations lessened the impact of the vaccines to fight new and unfamiliar strains. The spike protein, the piece of the virus our vaccines were designed to mimic, had mutated significantly, and continues to as the virus spreads unchecked. Bodies began to pile up again as the media urged the public to ‘vax and relax’, even as the percentage of dead who were vaccinated continued to climb.
As we entered the disastrous Omicron winter of ‘21-22, David Leonhardt of the Times repeatedly asserted that this strain was “mild,” an assumption he made based on badly misinterpreted data and without even a sliver of the facts you’d need to make such a bold statement. He continually compared deaths to case counts which occurred on the same day, an approach that makes no sense to determine severity during exponential growth, because people do not die the same day they become infected. Although this is a relatively straightforward error, neither he nor his editors at the Times seemed to spot it as he continually made the same mistake for weeks and months, commenting that high cases hadn’t led to high hospitalizations, then that high hospitalizations hadn’t led to deaths. Finally, when the death toll was approaching a 9/11’s worth daily, Leonhardt pivoted again; deaths were high, but no worries; the cases were going down. In fact, studies have never shown that Omicron is milder than the original strain of COVID; only that it was less deadly than Delta, which was itself more severe than the Alpha strain.
That’s right: it has never been shown that Omicron, once outcomes have been adjusted for vaccine status, is actually any milder than COVID 1.0. If you’ve heard this, repeated this, read it in the New York Times, or used it as the basis for your ongoing lack of precautions, you have been misinformed. Misinformed by some of the most famous, most respected and most legitimate news outlets in the world. The unfounded claim that “omicron is mild”- one that was made amidst spiking deaths and well before any broad analysis could’ve been done on the data- has formed the basis of hundreds of news stories, thousands of reporters’ false assumptions, hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of hospitalizations. COVID remains the third leading cause of death in the nation, behind only cancer (all types) and heart attacks (themselves a risk of COVID). At no point has its toll been comparable to a disease like the flu.
In December of 2021, amidst the rising case counts and with the thundercloud of Omicron looming, the White House stated in no uncertain terms that this had become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and that those who were vaccinated would not be hospitalized, would not die. Advocacy groups like NNU strongly condemned this victim-blaming language. In April of 2022, the Washington Post actually parsed the data; of the people who lost their lives in 8 weeks during the Winter ‘22 Omicron wave, 42% had been vaccinated. And meanwhile, the New York Times celebrated. “Mild” was the word on everybody’s lips.
This summer, the BA.2 wave bled into the BA.5 wave, and hundreds of Americans continued to quietly die daily. I say “quietly,” because of the widespread suppression of news and data surrounding the inconveniently ongoing pandemic. Deep into the Omicron winter wave, the HHS announced it would stop asking states to report their COVID data; I reached out in disbelief to every reporter I knew, all of them white males in the Upper Middle Class, and was met with shrugs. “This data is redundant,” they said, faithfully repeating the White House’s Press Release. As soon as the “redundant” data disappeared, states began to slash their own data reporting too. Testing plummeted as free test sites disappeared and PCR testing was privatized. Those of us who did as we were told and attempted to “make our own risk assessments” found ourselves scouring obscure, difficult to use websites designed to track the levels of COVID virus in our city’s shit.
“What’s going on in the sewage?” my friends and I ask each other, trying to gauge the status of the pandemic in a country that does not want us to know a thing about it. “I think it’s holding steady,” we’d say, squinting at the odd data that hadn’t been updated for days. “But I’m not really sure.”
Right now, five major new variants are hitting Europe and Canada, while beginning to grow here in New York City as well. They will likely be dominant in the US by mid-late November. These include the very worrying XBB and B.Q.1.1 variants; the newest booster is only formulated to protect up through the BA.5 strain, and wasn’t released until that wave was nearly over. Plus, the percentage of Americans who’ve gotten the new bivalent booster is in the single digits. This is hardly surprising as they’ve been inundated with a year’s worth of propaganda that the virus is safe to contract, while never being given information about Long COVID, spiking cardiac incidents, or the way rapid mutation blunts the impact of past vaccinations.
Along with the ever-growing library of variants, the false rumors that COVID is now mild, and the growing body of evidence that it carries myriad long-term risks to health, vaccine efficacy data from the CDC itself points to a worrying tendency for rapid waning. For example, at 4 months (120+ days) after your 3rd shot, your risk of hospitalization during the BA.4/5 wave was only reduced 29% vs an unvaccinated person.
Most people in the US haven’t had a shot in a year or more; in fact, only about half the country ever got even one booster. That means we are heading into the winter with 5 deadly new variants on the loose, a public that has been lulled into complacency by a press that ass-covered for Joe Biden’s failed strategy, no masks, limited and inaccessible testing, drastically waned vaccine protection for a strain that hasn’t been dominant in over 2 years, and plenty of holiday travel on the horizon. Germany recently surpassed their all-time pandemic hospitalization record, while Canadian and UK healthworkers struggle to keep up with the influx of patients.
All this hasn’t even touched on the long-term effects of the disease: the spiking heart attacks, strokes and blood clots that follow COVID infection, the death of T-cells and subsequent damage to the immune system which is still being studied, or the microclots and viral persistence seen in Long COVID patients. At this time, it is estimated that 20 million Americans are living with Long COVID, or 1 in every 5 COVID survivors, and that 81% of them report the illness limiting their daily activities. Regardless of your maybe-eugenicist opinions about whether it’s ok for hundreds of thousands of sick, vulnerable and elderly people to die of a preventable illness every year, no, the nation cannot continually disable working age individuals at this rate and continue to function. It just plainly does not add up. Masks came off in March of this year and some 7% of the US population is suffering from Long COVID. Whether we deal with this crisis now, in 3 years, 5, or 10, the longer we wait to confront reality, the harder it will be to achieve anything close to the “old normal.”
Who gets to be mourned by our politicians in America? For whom do they light candles, make speeches, and wipe away little tears in front of fawning Vogue reporters? Will your death be politically convenient or not? Will the First Lady put on a designer coat and stand in the cold with her hand in her husband’s while Lincoln looks on when you’ve succumbed to the mild illness? Or will reporters see your name among the hundreds of thousands oozing across the obituary pages and call it “redundant”?
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