We’ve been here before, you and I, right here at the fulcrum between controlling COVID-19 and letting it run wild. Here we are again, swaddled in the dented surety that doing the same thing over and over will bring about a different conclusion, just because we really really want it to… wait, strike that: Just because capitalism really, really wants it to. The rest of that “we” is most of us, baggage stacked down in the dripping darkness of steerage, waiting for the next viral iceberg to smack this gilded, hollow ship in half, again.
In March 2020, then-President Trump declared a national state of emergency over the pandemic, and an avalanche of states went under some version of a lockdown. Almost immediately, Trump began hectoring his own scientific experts to downplay the dangers of COVID-19 as he pushed to “reopen” the economy as soon as possible. It was a hard sell: Even as the jobless numbers swelled into the millions and businesses began closing all over, a clear majority of the country believed in the science of masking, cloistering and social distancing. Some 25,000 people had died from COVID by then, a number that, in our innocence, many of us found almost too appalling to contemplate.
“Around two weeks ago,” I wrote in that late March 2020, “when the first wave of closures — the schools, the ballgames, the bars — began to roll across the country, a clock began ticking in my head. How long will it be, I wondered, before some rich person goes on TV and starts quacking about ‘getting the country going again,’ because they’re losing money? Flash-forward to this past Sunday morning, and wouldn’t you know it, some self-satisfied capitalist was on one of the cable networks arguing that ‘low-risk,’ low-wage workers (who are the economy even as they seldom benefit from the economy) should go back to work and just let the virus ‘burn through’ their ranks.”
That quacking reached a crescendo the following spring, and various state and local governments chose to let their collective guard down in the name of making money for our financial overlords. The result: A massive surge of COVID obliterated our hopes and drove us back indoors again. The winter of 2020-2021 was upon us, and the red death held sway over all.
The following spring brought widely available vaccines, actual vaccines that actually work. Millions lined up to get their shots, although millions also flatly refused to give the vaccines a second thought because doing so became tied to fealty to Trump and his doomed attempt to overthrow the election he’d lost in November. The efficacy of the vaccines was blunted, and when President Biden promised new hope that summer, he and the rest of us were confronted with the one-two punch of the Delta and Omicron variants. Down into the darkness we went again, with a death toll today totaling over 900,000 souls at a clip of about 2,500 per day.
Over all those days, weeks, months and now — God help us — years, I sounded warning after warning after warning: Capitalism cannot be allowed to drive the bus when it comes to dealing with this, or any pandemic. “We’ve tried it their way for going on two years now,” I wrote this past November, “and all we have is close to a million people dead to show for it. The very corporations clamoring to rush people back into infected work spaces are the ones funding Republicans who rally their people to resist the vaccines. They have no interest in public health. Their goal is private wealth, and as far as they are concerned, wealth must be extracted at all costs.”
It is therefore with a despair verging on the inexpressible that I observe the nation’s leaders now lining up to displace science with profit, for the third time since this nightmare hamster wheel got to spinning. Only this time, it is not the Abbotts of Texas or the DeSantises of Florida leading the march; that would merely be common on this trainwreck of a timeline. No, this time it’s New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon — Blue states all — for openers, and with more sure to follow.
Disabled and immunocompromised people will be hit hardest by this new dismissal of effective public safety measures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made it clear that it is far too soon after Delta and Omicron to begin dickering around with masking, one of the most effective basic prophylactics against random infection. As for the Biden administration, well, this charge toward ersatz normalcy came after the president pointedly said last week that decisions like these would be made by the states, and not the federal government… and it’s an election year.
“The moves highlight how even local officials who installed sweeping safety measures early in the pandemic are now preparing to live permanently with the virus,” reports The New York Times. Watch for that phrasing — “live permanently with the virus” — as it will be everywhere soon. Sounds all stiff-upper-lip, right? Loosely translated, it means, “This is the course that promises the most profit, and must be adhered to without question.”
In other words, the capitalists are sick of your bullshit, it’s time to give up. They’re mightily weary of fighting for ground they thought was secure. Yes, you may die horribly at the hands of such twisted, profit-driven priorities. So long as you die coughing with a dollar in your hand while reaching, reaching for something to buy, you will have done a proper turn of service to your society as this third COVID winter plays incubator for the future.