The pandemic is winding down in the U.S. It’s not over, as responsible people will remind you. You still gotta wear a mask. You still gotta get vaccinated, if you haven’t already. You shouldn’t jump the gun like Texas or like my state (Maryland) and proudly declare every Golden Corral now open for business. You can’t go licking every toilet seat in abandon. You still gotta wait.
But not much longer.
When Old Man Biden took office a mere six weeks ago, he said that he would get Americans 100 million shots his first 100 days in office. He had to revise that number down from 150 million when the initial vaccination rate came in limping. He shouldn’t have. As of this writing, the U.S. has already administered over 95 million vaccine shots in just 50 days (with 62.5 million Americans getting at least one dose). We’ve achieved those numbers despite being only two weeks removed from the heralded Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine being approved, and two days removed from Biden engineering a production merger between J&J and Merck to get the new vaccine out the door even faster. We’re at two million vaccinations a day right now, and that pace only promises to increase as the manufacturing does. Biden has already promised enough vaccine for every adult by the end of May, and I believe him. I can’t believe I believe him, but I do. The old man is delivering.
This week—or today itself, March 11, for many people—marks the unofficial anniversary of Shit Getting Real with the pandemic. I remember all the fear that came with the pandemic’s arrival. Millions of people might die (this happened). My parents might die (this did not). I might die (still here). My kids might never be able to step inside a physical classroom ever again. The economy might wither into nothing. We might have to wait YEARS for a vaccine, if a vaccine ever came at all. The pandemic was gonna be the bill finally coming due for the human race. I’D LIKE TO SEE OL’ MANNY-KIND WRIGGLE OUT OF THIS JAM!
We’re wriggling out of it. The After is at America’s doorstep. It’s not happening in an instant. There may be a ceremonial day in the future where the U.S. records zero new COVID-related hospitalizations and the president hangs a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner across a giant COVID-19 spore. But really, you and I are already starting to get our lives back in bits and pieces. This is not an easy thing to comprehend if you’ve been as vigilant about prevention as many of us have been. I just spent the past four years lacquering myself in alternating coats of protective irony and rage, so my ability to process good news is now barely existent. I can’t witness ANY promising development right now without believing it’s a cruel trick. I’ve been conditioned for the worst.
To that end, I’ve taken every sign of life during the pandemic as a harbinger of doom. I’ve gasped at Lake of the Ozarks footage. I’ve tut-tutted hillbillies freely commingling at Kid Rock’s Boogaloo Cornbread Trough. I’ve rolled my eyes at every in-season NFL COVID stat update. And I’ve crowd-shamed every sporting event and every other mass gathering with all the screeching liberal ire I can muster.
But just this one time, the momentum has inexorably swung in mankind’s favor. I need to stop wringing my hands at EVERY sign of potential danger, because there are signs of rebirth all around if I choose to acknowledge them as such. The fact that these signs have come on the brink of springtime is not necessarily a coincidence, but rather deserves to be for the sake of poetry. I saw my first flower of the new year the other day while I was walking my dog. I saw the Texas Rangers announce full capacity for Opening Day, which triggered my shamedar for half a second before I realized that outdoor transmission is a very low risk (keep that roof open, fuckheads), especially as more and more people become fully inoculated.
It was that moment where I realized that every sight that filled me with dread at the beginning of the pandemic should now fill me with the precise opposite feeling. Adjusting my attitude is gonna be a process, just as it was at the beginning of this goddamn thing. I myself have not been vaccinated yet because Larry Hogan deserves to be strangled with his own doubled chin, but this extended boarding process into The After is giving me the time I need to readjust to the idea of, like, walking outside again.
Slowly but surely, it’s all coming back to me. I don’t wince every time I see crowds anymore. I don’t freak out when I walk by a restaurant and see people daring to eat inside of one. (My parents, now fully vaccinated, are eating out at a restaurant for the first time in over a year on Saturday night with friends, who are also fully vaccinated.) My in-laws, both fully vaccinated, came into our house this week and I hugged them and I was like oh yeah, I remember how to do this. The fear left me so quickly it was like it had never been there at all.
I look at the news now and there’s still plenty of awful shit in it, as there always will be. Millions of lives have been lost to and destroyed by this pandemic, and those who deserve to pay for it probably won’t. I can see all that while also seeing, from an aerial view, the virus receding from the continent like a melting glacier.
And it’s happening at the speed of miracles. The vaccine cavalry arrived WAY before even the most optimistic scientists thought it might. All of the scary rona variants that are eating their way through countries like the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil are evidently no match for it. The infection rate here in the U.S. has fallen off a cliff. Even if the dreaded spring spike comes to pass—and it may not—it’ll be the final one here in America. All pandemic long, the American government left it to you and me to deal with this goddamn virus. So even with professional ghouls like Greg Abbott doing their absolute best to sneak in as many rona deaths as they can under the wire, tough shit for them because you and I already know how to care take of ourselves. With regard to the vaccinations, every piece of good news we get creates more good news on a legitimately exponential scale. Five of my colleagues here at Defector are vaccinated. That’s five less potential spreaders of the disease, which makes everyone they love safer in turn, which makes everyone one more degree removed from those loved ones safer in turn as well. And on and on.
I am still waiting for my shot. I’ve been overjoyed for my friends and family—and fuck it, for strangers, too!—who have gotten theirs. And yeah, I’ve definitely stewed on the sideline a bit, thinking WHEN THE FUCK IS IT MY TURN as other states lap mine. But I’ve made it this far. I’ve been hibernating, so to speak. But I know what’s coming. I can SEE it now, and I’m hardly alone. Summer rentals are already through the fucking stratosphere. Everyone wants to get drunk and naked.
And they will. The pandemic is not done with us, and it’s still ravaging the world at large. But sometimes history can surprise you by actually moving FORWARD, thanks to equal parts work and science. It’s been a long year, and yet it’s ONLY been a year. It could have been so much longer, and so much shittier. There is now proof around you that things are starting to get better. VASTLY better. I can see the finish line, and you can, too. Let’s get ready to fucking live again.