Easily the dumbest rallying cry in this phase of the pandemic — meaning it makes the ideal soundbite on Real Time with Bill Maher — is the assertion that you’re “done with COVID.” The altogether meaningless phrase seems to have entered the public consciousness in early December, when Rep. Jim Jordan declared that “Real America” was moving on from the disease, even as cases of the omicron variant were surging. The denial of a clear and present threat to American lives is par for the course. The stranger part is the implication that there is anything we could do to acknowledge it less. As a country, we’ve already chosen to passively accept the worst the virus has to offer. How can you protest if your side has obviously won?
The pandemic hawks are quick to remind the #DoneWithCovid squad that COVID isn’t done with them. But a snappy comeback to those who have prolonged the crisis by resisting masks and vaccines isn’t enough to satisfy their scolding quota. So this group has increasingly taken to blanket statements of despair, under the guise of sober-minded pragmatism. Like this tweet:
Okay, and? Who needs to hear this? Certainly not the people who have been following serious, realistic doctors since COVID-19 swept the planet. It’s the unbelievers who might benefit from a dose of hard truth — and they’ve repeatedly established that they haven’t a fuck to spare, even though it’s their own lungs on the line. Besides which, there’s no takeaway from this grand pronouncement. It is incredibly vague, as if to let readers project any opinion or fear onto it.
“I hate to be the one to break this bad news…” No, you don’t. And you’re not breaking news, either. We all know, from enduring and fighting over this shit for two years, that it will continue.
Back in early 2020, it was easy to amass a huge audience with an “MD” in your display name and some technical analysis of the early data we had on COVID. These were the health professionals who calmly explained how long it should take to wash your hands, the relative efficacy of various masks and why it was imperative to limit personal contact. Although they had grim predictions, they were just as often reassuring, or at least tempered their warnings with appeals to common sense. These days, however, the web-celeb doctors in your feed are given to apocalyptic speculation, either because they’ve lost their faith that humanity can meet this challenge, or, arguably more frightening, they’ve realized that the extreme commentary is what drives engagement. They paint pictures of societal collapse, too melodramatic to be any help.
In fairness, the situation does remain grave. Day by day, we’re still tallying the dead. It’s always been difficult to convey the scope and impact of such a world-historical nightmare. Health-care workers have burned themselves out both in hospitals and as expert sources of information. We can’t outright dismiss what the medical community is telling us — but that’s what makes the heightened alarmism from a handful of influencers so insidious. Once the focus shifts from service to despair, from solutions to anguish, we invite even the most conscientious to give up any hope. Doctors, of all people, must not contribute to that trend.
Of course the pandemic has left vast emotional wounds, and it has further pain in store. But we know things are bad — we commiserate about it with friends and family — so the doomer MDs feel like they’re piling trauma on top of trauma, implicitly blaming everyone without their credentials for the catastrophe they describe. Well, we didn’t create COVID-19. We’re only trying to survive it. Maybe doctors who rode the virus to social media stardom can leave us a little room to breathe.