I always believed that when it ended, or came as close to “ending” as science and petulant politics could manage, there would be a shared moment of great rejoicing joined in somber reflection of all that had been lost.
One would have to exist, right? After almost a thousand days of COVID, a thousand days of choking death and stifled fear, of refrigerator trucks stuffed with bodies and nurses wearing garbage bags to save their own lives, even the folly of “leaders” and the vandalism of followers has not smothered our need to embrace an ending to this thing, a place where we who are still here can say, “Here we are.”
Instead, wedged between Russia cutting off Poland and Bulgaria’s gas supply and Elon Musk’s new toy, was the announcement: The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from COVID-19 over more than two grinding years. So spoke Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, on Wednesday. “We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity.’”
Not long after, CNN carried President Biden’s eulogy for Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The assembled wore black, and his tone was serious. Each person wore a matching black mask as Kamala Harris (Vice President) and a number of other administration officials contracted COVID following the Gridiron Dinner.
There is talk the president will miss the White House Correspondents’ Dinner because of this. The last president to skip the Correspondents’ Dinner was Donald Trump, who dodged the night because he hates being made fun of. Funny, that: Had Trump skipped the Dinner in 2011, when President Obama turned him inside out like a Rottweiler with a rag doll over Trump’s “birther” obsession, we might not even be here.
One more quick bit of` trivia: Who was the last White House chief medical adviser to back out of the Correspondents’ Dinner? Answer: Anthony Fauci bailed out of the event on Tuesday night before telling everyone we’re entering a “controlled phase” the following morning.
Fauci was very clear in his assessment during that Wednesday morning interview. “The world is still in a pandemic,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic.”
A few minutes later, Fauci said, “Right now we’re at a low enough level that I believe that we’re transitioning into endemicity.… We’re not in the full-blown explosive pandemic phase. However, this does not mean that the pandemic has ended. A pandemic means widespread infection throughout the world.… In our country we’re transitioning into more of a controlled endemicity.”
Since Trump declared the plague a political issue and then systematically failed to address it, Anthony Fauci has been the target of a hate campaign by right-wing extremists. Fauci’s rare missteps have been magnified and often distorted, and there’s even an outlandishly, dangerously bizarre theory out there arguing Fauci himself caused the COVID-19 pandemic in the first place. Is that a basement guy who came up with this idea? Actually, Tucker Carlson, prime time Fox NewsLast summer, host, came up one version. There are many more.
I have always been in the Fauci corner, in science’s corner, vaxxed and boosted as soon as I became eligible. Since the beginning, science has been my guide. Science has proven itself to be a reliable and trustworthy source of information. Science has done its best, which is pretty damn good, in almost incomprehensible circumstances.
To me, there is an air of Archibald Cox about Mr. Fauci. Both were exactly what was required at the moment. They served with honor and, with the exception of a few furious few, were trusted by millions.
I still trust Anthony Fauci, but I’ll never listen to him the same way again after today. I can’t abide what he said, and I remain astonished he said it. While we aren’t in a pandemic, it is still an epidemic around the world. His last two lines — “A pandemic means widespread infection throughout the world.… In our country we’re transitioning into more of a controlled endemicity” — leave me in despair.
If anyone should ask exactly why this country flew apart at the seams when the first round of COVID came snarling through, you can chalk it up, at least in part, to the grumpy, grabby, sullen, surly sort of “exceptional” American individualism much of the nation and a fair portion of its politics appear to have embraced. Three cities or regions were safe and secure, while others were populated by people who wore Band-Aid-level technology as masks.
Fauci said that the United States should be considered separate from the rest. This fragmentation is perilous for a scientist who has seen it all through. The variants and subvariants are what make COVID so dangerous. All of themThey have come from somewhere else, at the far end of the fictions we call boundaries.
We must not fail to grasp this fundamental fact. This will cause the pandemic to drag on, despite our happy declarations to the contrary.
If any COVID remains on Tierra del Fuego’s last outcropping, that is also our problem. It will attempt to get there, and it is very good at it, because that is its nature. It hasn’t changed once since this all began. It got meaner by degrees, but the mission statement didn’t so much as twitch. We, on the contrary, did everything possible to welcome it, other than baking ourselves in the oven, like Thanksgiving turkeys.
“A dramatic drop in testing for Covid-19,” reportsThe Guardian, “has left the world blind to the virus’s continuing rampage and its potentially dangerous mutations, the head of the World Health Organization has warned. ‘As many countries reduce testing, WHO is receiving less and less information about transmission and sequencing,’ he said. ‘This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution. When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss.’”
This isn’t over, because this is about the world and our place in it. There is still a pandemic in that part of the world. Anthony Fauci told me so.
When the river hits flood level and it’s all hands to the banks, there is no declaration of victory if the waters slightly recede. Take a break, take some rest, then pack the sandbags again. Why? Why?