My Jeremiad on COVID-19

coronavirus image -- a white sphere with red corona spikes emanating outwardThis illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. (public domain image)

Most people who were raised in Christian, Jewish, or Muslim traditions have a general idea of what Jeremiah’s mood and demeanor were, and that he was not an optimistic individual.

In fact, Jeremiah has become a nearly universal symbol of the bearer of bad news.

So it follows that even if you’ve never heard the word “Jeremiad” before, you can guess that it signifies pessimistic predictions.

This is my Jeremiad on COVID-19.

We are not out of the woods yet, and might never be in our lifetimes

I wrote in an opinion piece last Sunday that we are not yet out of the woods of COVID-19. What brought that on was on the previous day I’d reported on an uptick in COVID cases among school-aged Cobb County residents, after several consecutive weeks of modest drop.

I got some interesting but predictable push-back on social media.

Two commenters found it suspicious that I’d report those numbers when the CDC was advocating vaccination for younger people (5 years old and up). In other words, they thought I was in a conspiracy with the CDC to scare people into vaccinating their kids.

I reported on it not because there’s some sort of exchange of talking points between the media and the CDC, but because it was newsworthy.

I had previously reported on the trend when the numbers started dropping after the Delta surge

So I reported when they began rising again. The numbers in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s weekly  School Aged COVID-19 Surveillance Data report are important, and we should all be aware of them, because data matters, whether they support our personal beliefs or not.

Another commenter just went straight to the point, and told me to stop scaring people, like the 773,779 COVID deaths in the U.S. as of today’s figures were not scary enough.

I do want people to be scared

I do want people to be afraid because COVID is still a horrifying disease. I became an early advocate of fear of the disease when a first cousin I’d grown up with became one of Cobb County’s earliest victims of the disease.

His brother reported to me that the cousin had come down with flu-like symptoms, was hospitalized a few days later, went on a ventilator, and died nine days from the time he developed the first signs. I’m 70 years old. He was about three years older than me.

A couple of months ago the husband of another of my first cousins died of COVID. I suspect that my two family members who’ve died so far will not be the last.

And yes, we’re old, and some of us have “underlying conditions.” But the disease has also killed across all age segments.

Below is the CDC’s chart of the percentage by age segment of deaths of people whose ages were available.

Disaster fatigue and the role of politics

When looking at social media engagement through the lens of COVID awareness two things become obvious.

The first is that the public is just tired of thinking about the disease, and wants everything to go back to pre-COVID normalcy. And they’re behaving accordingly.

I’d normally use the more formally correct term “normality,” but normalcy fits this perfectly since the term was famously used by President Warren G. Harding, who applied it to the urge to return to normal routines after the Spanish flu epidemic, WWI, and the red scare.

But the virus doesn’t care whether we ever return to normalcy, and in fact, its programming is to mutate and make sure we don’t.

The virus doesn’t think. It just finds a host and duplicates itself.

The role of politics is the second thing that becomes obvious, and it’s bizarre, insane, and frustrating.

There is no rational reason that the control of a deadly disease should be an ideological matter.

For an irrational set of reasons, the Trump-supporting, QAnon-spouting sector of the population has become the headquarters of the anti-vaxxer, antimasker quack science approach to the pandemic.

And consequently, even relatively sane and reasonable Republicans in elected office have pandered to them and supported moves that block an effective response to COVID-19.

So it’s doubtful that we’ll do much better than the upper-40 percent range with full vaccination in Georgia in the foreseeable future.

This means that reaching herd immunity will be out of reach.

Which means the graph of COVID-19 over time will exhibit wave after wave of surges.

I hope I’m wrong

I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t think of any rational reason we won’t have new waves, and they might already be starting.

Europe is in a new surge. The CDC reported an uptick of cases in the U.S. over the past week:

Wishful thinking about natural immunity is not going to stop this pandemic. Neither is vaccination unless sane voices in the conservative end of the political spectrum can convince their peers to stop pandering to pseudoscience.

But since I don’t see that happening in the near future I’m pessimistic.

And that’s why this is a Jeremiad.