No Leaf Clover
As the next COVID surge pummels the east, looks like the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't real this time, either.
I’m the type of person who needs something to look forward to. It’s how I’ve always been and how I’ve always willed myself through some of life’s more difficult times.
Only [X number of] days until the last day of school. Only [X number of] days until Christmas break. Only [X number of] days until we move into our new place.
You get the idea. Trudging aimlessly through the darkness without a light at the end of the tunnel leaves me alone with my thoughts, which tend to drive me to depressing, anxious, irritable places. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a really long tunnel and it’s taken a pretty big toll on me. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this. With every glimpse of light that I see, I think to myself, “Oh, I’m so thankful this is almost over,” and breathe a sigh of relief. But every single time that light has been a lie, a false alarm, a freight train barrelling towards us.
Fight or flight kicks in, we dive out of its way… and then we do it all again. Rinse. Repeat.
So I’ve been trying not to get my hopes up about the “post-COVID” future. And by “post-COVID” I mean “post-COVID-being-a-very-real-lethal-threat.” COVID itself seems like it’s here to stay. I’m just hoping it follows the route of the 1918 flu pandemic and mutates into something less lethal, less intense, less of a threat to the world. That would be pretty sweet.
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As of now, I haven’t caught COVID [knock on wood]. I hope it stays that way, though with how fast the latest variant is spreading out east, I’m guessing it’ll only be a week or two before it hits us living in the midwest with the same sort of ferocity. Seems like everyone on the east coast is getting it. Hunter Walker, who writes the great The Uprising newsletter, tested positive for COVID over the weekend, even after 1.) Getting COVID last year before vaccines were available, 2.) getting vaccinated, and 3.) Getting a booster. Plus, he’s a pretty careful guy. If anything, you’d think he’d be the most immune person on the planet, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, which is a little scary. (Seems like his case is a lot milder this time around, which is good news, though.)
Naturally, however, the replies to Hunter’s tweet were… less than encouraging, filled with people who seemed downright gleeful that he caught it. (A couple of examples are below, but you can click on his tweet and scroll to the bottom if you want to see the full list.)
It’s really frustrating to watch a significant portion of the population argue that COVID is a.) no big deal, b.) that vaccines don’t work, and c.) that measures to reduce the spread from one person to the next (i.e. masks) don’t work. None of this is accurate, but pushing back on it doesn’t seem to matter to these people. They’ve all adopted their views, have dug in, and nothing you say will change their minds.
“If the vaccines work, how did you catch it?” Because vaccines aren’t perfect. No vaccine is perfect. Some are less perfect than others. If the only vaccine you’re willing to say “works” is one that will protect 100% of the people who take it from catching the disease, then your list of “working” vaccines is going to be a pretty short one. What makes this type of argument extra frustrating is that many of these people are the same folks who spent all year arguing in favor of a “herd immunity” approach, a term they pretty clearly did not understand. (Herd immunity is when enough people are vaccinated against a disease that the portion of people who either couldn’t get vaccinated, have compromised immune systems, or simply didn’t get the protection they needed to ward off the virus from their vaccination will be protected as the virus struggles to find new hosts to jump between. This is why it matters whether other people get vaccinated or not and isn’t just some “personal choice.”)
“If both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can catch and spread it, then what’s the point of getting vaccinated?” Vaccinated people are much less likely to catch it than vaccinated people. You can only spread it if you’ve caught it. So yes, getting vaccinated helps reduce the likelihood that you’ll spread it because you’ll be less likely to ever have it in the first place.
And then there are people like this guy who illustrated yet another challenge we’re facing: sociopaths who know they’re carrying the virus but won’t change anything about how they live their lives, infecting countless others. This was in response to a Zeynep Tufekci tweet about the importance of testing. This is not how a society works.
We’re only a few months from hitting the 1,000,000 death mark in the U.S., and I’m still not sure I’m prepared for the psychic weight such a number holds. Yesterday, 1,296 people in the U.S. died from COVID, nearly 70,000 people are hospitalized with COVID. Those numbers seem to be on the upswing, and it just leaves me feeling extra depressed to think about how we’ve just collectively decided that this is just how it is. It doesn’t have to be. Add in the fact that being horrifically wrong about COVID doesn’t seem to have at all affected the views of the early “COVID contrarians” (in fact, many of them are making more money than ever before, many of them doing so right here on this very platform — I just wish there was even a fraction of that money for people who haven’t been spreading misinformation, but readers choose what they subscribe to and what they pay for, alas. Speaking of which…)
Moments of hope are fleeting, but I’m glad they still happen.
A couple of weeks back, my friend Lane Moore was in town to do her “Tinder Live” show at The Hideout, one of my absolute favorite venues in all of Chicago.
I’ve flaked on so many things during this pandemic, but when it came to Lane’s show, I really felt like it was important to go a.) support my friend, and b.) step outside of my comfort zone, which seemed to be an ever-increasing sense of home with agoraphobia. So we threw on our masks and shuffled out the door.
It was great seeing her. It was great seeing people, generally. No, things weren’t the same as before the pandemic, but I’ll take what I can get. The pandemic is hard to forget when you’re sitting there with a KN-95 mask on your face, even during a comedy show, but it was still nice.
But the moment that gave me that oh-so-brief feeling of hope was when a man clutching a small red cooler came shuffling through the crowd. “Tamales?” he said in a hushed voice to people in one of the rows ahead of me. It was Claudio Velez, Chicago’s very own “Tamale Guy!” I’m sure his name means nothing to 99.9% of the people who will read this, but Claudio is a local legend. In my early 20s, back when I used to actually go to bars on a pretty regular basis, Claudio would bust through the doors, carrying that same cooler, selling $5 homemade tamales at all the Wicker Park/Bucktown/Ukrainian Village bars in Chicago.
When Claudio opened his own restaurant in August 2020 after more than 20 years of selling tamales on the go, he sold out of food in the first hour of being open. It was heartwarming to see him have such success with something he’d long wanted to do. And then, just two weeks later, he was in the hospital in critical condition and on a ventilator after coming down with COVID-19. He was hospitalized for more than a month but pulled through. It was just really nice to see him out and about once again, and it gave me a bit of hope.
That was the first indoor live event I went to since the pandemic began. Kayla and I followed it up on Friday by seeing the new Spider-Man movie. And while the two of us seemed to be among the few to actually follow the theater’s mask policy, and while it felt a little odd to spend more of the film behind a mask than the famously-masked superhero did, it was fun. It was needed. It was necessary.
As yet another flicker of light turns out to just be a charging locomotive, I’m trying my best, and I hope you are, too.