“Yes, the vaccine is coming,” I told myself as I spent my first Thanksgiving without any of my 70something parents in the hope of keeping them safe. Yes, the vaccine is coming, I tell myself as I look ahead to what will be an even lonelier Christmas. Yes, the vaccine is coming, I tell my father, who hasn’t see his grandchildren in months. Yes, the vaccine is coming, I silently mouth as I look into my children’s bedrooms as they stare into the blue lights of their computer screens, deprived of school, friends, family and what used to be called normal life.
As we were warned, the “darkest winter in history” has arrived on our doorstep, with the most chilling of numbers: More than 2,800 Americans died on Wednesday, the most reported in a single day since the pandemic started back in March. And on Friday, more than 226,000 new cases recorded, another new single-day record. California is about to go into another lockdown, and unbelievably, one of every 800 people in North Dakota have now died of coronavirus. Hospitals from Missouri to New Mexico to Minnesota say they will soon run out of beds for the patients who need them. We are a country with more than 14 million cases of coronavirus—with the numbers rising every day.
Being stuck at home with unhappy teenage kids is depressing—but I know I am one of the very lucky ones. The toll this is taking on the country as a whole is almost unimaginable. According to the Washington Post, “One in 8 Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week.” And the U.S. economy “has a greater jobs deficit than was the case at the very worst point of every previous postwar recession, including the Great Recession.”
We are a country that is sick, broken, and broke. Our president golfs and rages about the election, completely uninterested in the destruction he’s wrought. His response to the coronavirus has been a humanitarian nightmare of unprecedented proportions. More than 14 million Americans have had COVID-19, and the real number is likely significantly higher since our president isn’t a fan of testing because he believes it “creates more cases.” Mitch McConnell seems uninterested in providing financial relief for the millions who suffer, though stimulus talks are ongoing.
Is it any wonder, then, that “pandemic fatigue” has set in?
Despite my family’s fortunate state, we, like everyone else in America (and much of the world), are suffering. There is a loneliness that is palpable in my city and in my house. Broadway is dark and many Christmas traditions are on hold. (The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is up, but the chances to see it up close are strictly limited.) The pretzel guys in midtown look lost, the streets are quiet, the tourists will not come this Christmas season. And in my little world, my teenagers grapple with a virtual year. Not only can friends not come over, but movie theaters, indoor dining, parties, debate tournaments, model Congress and sports are all gone for the foreseeable future. My teenage children don’t have to worry about their next meal but they, like all American children, are experiencing this odd combination of scared and bored: Worried about the death that the pandemic has wrought but also bored by how it’s flattened and circumscribed their lives.
But perhaps the worst thing about living through a pandemic is that we’re supposed to act normal, do our work, do our lives, all with the crushing backdrop of death. Things need to get done, the world continues on despite the ambulances rushing by. My state has lost over 26,800 human souls. I turn on the television or read Twitter and I’m assaulted by the new crush of coronavirus deaths. This week Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of a “surge upon a surge.”
Sometimes I’ll sit at my computer when I’m supposed to be working and I’ll just cry. I’m not crying for myself or even my somewhat unhappy teenage children. I’m crying because of the human tragedy that is unfolding in my country. It’s so hard to be normal in a world that feels so crushingly sad. We are the country that the world pities now, and they should. Our people are suffering; our president golfs.
Much of the carnage we are living through could have been prevented. Immunologist and Health and Human Services whistleblower Rick Bright told Congress in May, “While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of [COVID-19] this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system.” We knew this was coming but our president and fox news instead politicized masking and spread misinformation about the virus and its devastating consequences.
But the good news is that a vaccine is coming. One, from Pfizer, just completed an enormously successful trial that I participated in as a volunteer. (It was a blind trial; there is a 50% chance I have the vaccine itself, 50% the placebo.) The other, from Moderna, reported its own high success rate just a few days later, So just as the worst of the pandemic has arrived, a vaccine is just weeks away, at least for those who need it most: healthcare workers and those who live in work in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Then it will come to the rest of us.
Now we just have to live through that darkest winter.
I think about my great-grandfather, who hid in a hayloft in Poland during the pogroms. He was ultimately murdered by a Cossack. We are living through our own very bleak period of modern history but it’s nothing compared to being hunted by your oppressors and murdered in a hayloft. This dark winter will not be forever. Spring will come again. It always does.