The Guardian on Jan 15, 2023 published the most perfect piece of new normal nostalgia that ever was or could be: Coronavirus: ‘People aren’t taking this seriously’: experts say US Covid surge is big risk by Melody Schreiber.
This piece may be studied as a Platonic Form. Nothing could more perfectly demonstrate the inability of the covid fear porn publishers to let go of the narrative. If the author didn’t have her own website, I would have attributed the piece to an instance of ChatGPT trained on every Guardian and New York Times article from the past three years.
The writer employs every single discredited covid trope at least once. I will list a few of the best, here. To cover them all I would have to quote the entire article and that would violate the Fair Use Doctrine. I have chosen a tabular form with a quote alongside the trope that it is derived from:
|“In the fourth year of the pandemic.”||We are still in a pandemic. It will never end.|
|“This is one of the greatest surges of Covid cases in the entire pandemic, according to wastewater analyses of the virus.”||The current wave is the worst wave ever.|
|“Covid-19 is once again spreading across America and being driven by the recent holidays.”||Super-spreader events and family gatherings.|
|“The Omicron subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 as well as the quickly expanding XBB.1.5 make up the majority of cases.”||Just when you thought we were over it, a new variant has emerged.|
|“With XBB, there’s such a significant transmission advantage that exposure is really risky – it’s riskier now than it’s ever been” in terms of transmissibility, Sehgal said.”||The new variant is more dangerous than previous variants.|
|“And the more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to evolve, potentially picking up mutations that make it easier to overcome immunity.”||The variants only get worse over time, never more mild.|
|“the winter surge, which is once again putting pressure on health systems.”“Williams is worried that hospitals are reaching maximum capacity.”“Health workers have experienced three years of burnout, disability and death, and some have needed to exit the workforce.”||The health care system is under pressure. It will probably collapse. People will be dying in the streets, unable to obtain care.|
|“Despite the high rates of Covid spread, hospitalizations have not yet reached previous peaks seen earlier in the pandemic, probably due to immunity … but that protection should not be taken for granted, he said, particularly because immunity wanes.”||Natural immunity does not protect you. Even if you are immune, you should still get all the vaccines and boosters.|
|“The severe cases we are seeing are probably at least somewhat avoidable, if folks make sure that they stay updated on vaccination, because that’s still the safest way to gain immunity.”||Vaccination stops the spread.|
|“You’re just fighting a lot of misinformation.”||Everything that you have read contrary to this narrative consists of lies by malevolent misinformation spreaders.|
|When Joe Biden declared the pandemic was “over” in September, he said, it probably stalled public enthusiasm for the new booster.||Happy talk about the end of covid is dangerous.|
|“While vaccines are very important…”||All roads lead to vaccination.|
|“In New Hampshire, nursing homes will not admit those that they feel that they cannot staff to care for, which I think is admirable, but the consequence of that is that the hospitals are jammed up,” he said. Hospitals that might release patients to care facilities for transitional or long-term care will see beds filled for longer.”||The elderly in care homes are at risk.|
|“The share for children under four roughly doubled in 2022.”||Children are at risk.|
|“As Ray put it: ‘When we could be wearing a mask, why aren’t we?’”||Masks work to prevent respiratory viral transmission.|
My favorite part of the piece is, “Yet because of poor messaging from officials, many people may not even realize the US is experiencing a surge.” I am one of those many people who did not know this. A surge of what? A normal seasonal flu that makes people feel a bit under the weather for a week? A bad cold-vid?
We can celebrate our return to the old normal when an outbreak of a seasonal virus is of concern to those who are infected or who care for a family member. All of society need not be thrust into a panic over such things. The more normal the world is, the more resources of those who are impacted will have to deal with their troubles. And the better will those who are not directly affected be able to support them.
As a software engineer I note with some amusement that the variant (or as I like to call them “scariant”) names now have two periods. In a software release version a version with double dot is used for a minor bug fix release, (e.g. 3.0.1). “Minor” means that the release is not important enough for users to upgrade immediately. Perhaps the same thinking should be applied to the way we handle the emergence of new viral variants.
When Biden said that the pandemic is over, followed by “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape,” that may have been his dementia inhibiting the filter that was supposed to kick in before he said something truthful. Biden only said the quiet part out loud: the public has put the panic phase in the rearview. Even Anthony Fauci made the incomprehensible statement that the pandemic isn’t over but we are out of the “pandemic phase.” Every statement like this is more toothpaste for the pandemic dead-enders to put back in the tube.
The article bemoans the low acceptance rate of the booster vaccinations. We are told that cases are avoidable if patients had sought additional injections. First thing: do we care about cases? Second thing: it is not true that the covid vaccines prevent infection. That could only be so if the failed claim of sterilizing immunity were valid.
Vaccine advocates have walked back the earlier claims that one or any number of shots would prevent the recipient from getting infected. It was let out late in 2022 that the clinical trials did not even test for the ability of the drugs to stop transmission. It’s hard to believe that anyone can still say that after so many multiply-vaccinated-and-boosted public figures have gotten covid.
My friend Kevin Duffy, a professional investor, after seeing the Guardian article, sent me this image. The graph shows the market psychology of a financial bubble and subsequent market crash. I have added the red oval highlighting where Kevin thinks we are now: in the denial phase, after the bubble has burst.
I am also reminded of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief that a patient or a loved one goes through when receiving a terminal diagnosis. The stage in her sequence is denial. The subsequent stages are anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The same could be said of all of these tropes: Does anyone believe them anymore? This is not news. It is a last-gasp attempt to squeeze more juice out of a dehydrated lemon. These messages were potent fear generators two years ago. But with each use, the charge becomes weaker.
The script has worn itself out. These tropes are now tired and ineffective. The fear-pushers seem unaware that the message has lost its effect, but do not have anything else to offer. The tell is not that they publish articles like this. It is how much these pieces show that they don’t know that the game is over and they have lost.
Robert Blumen is a software engineer and podcast host who writes occasionally about political and economic issues