The calendar has turned. The Christmas tree has been taken down. The much-awaited arrival of 2021 is now in the rearview mirror. Champagne has been popped and the empty bottles abandoned in the desolation of the garbage bins behind your house.
But alas — nothing has changed.
We are still battling the pandemic. Daily news still echoes with screaming headlines about case counts, numbers dead and in hospital, ICU capacity, and now a new strain that has bared its teeth to ravage the world.
Will we ever get through this?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its relentless jaunt — despite the pharmaceutical militias that are being assembled to fight it — we have reached a point of utter exhaustion.
We spent Christmas Facetiming with our families while eating our sad little dinners for two. Christmas trees were sold out weeks before the holidays, snapped up by disappointed families with stymied plans to spend the cold, wet season in warmer, faraway lands.
On the other hand, turkeys got no love — how much turkey can two people eat anyway? Festivals of light and Christmas markets were canceled. And here in BC, Canada, on Dec 31, we were told that restaurants will not be allowed to sell alcohol after 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
We were all living under the delusion that 2021 will magically change things. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t happened. As the unfulfilled excitement of December blends into the dark, anticlimactic loneliness of January, many of us are done.
Coronavirus is here to stay — but for how long can we let it rule our lives?
At the office, the novelty of working from home has worn out. After endless Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours, we cannot help but think — now what? Corporate leaders are encouraged to keep team engagement and morale top of mind as the pandemic winter drags on — but what of our own feelings of malaise, social isolation, and apathy?
As a result, an increasing number of people are deciding that they are done with the pandemic.
I have friends and acquaintances who have decided, in the New Year, to start disregarding public health advice. These are people that have been exceedingly careful in living inside a curated bubble thus far.
No — they are not planning to throw 100 person parties (like this fine group of people on New Year’s Eve), but they see no reason why they can’t host a respectable 2–6 people at their home for dinner.
I cannot help but think about another time in human history when the apathy that arises from constantly living in fear led to seemingly inexplicable reckless behavior — when the AIDS pandemic was ravaging the world in the 1980s and 1990s.
I think about the young gay men in those decades that got sick of living in fear and either stopped using protection or deliberately took steps towards getting infected by the virus — just so they can get it over with.
If it’s bound to happen anyway, why not speed up the process?
It can’t be any worse than the edge-of-your-seat agony of waiting for the inevitable disaster to strike. Once the ax falls and you hold that positive test in your hand, you can begin to adjust to it. You can start to accept your fate.
There’s a small segment of the population that’s throwing COVID infection parties or showing up at anti-mask rallies, unperturbed by the crisis — better known as ‘covidiots’ in the media.
Here in BC, there was a fine gentleman who was fined multiple times for throwing large parties, before he was finally forced to spend Christmas Eve in jail. There was the restaurant that was shut down for hosting a 100 person New Year’s Eve party.
But there are also normal people that have been diligently following health authority guidelines, wearing their masks, going out for walks on sunny days, and dressing up for the grocery store because that’s the highlight of their social-interaction-free week. Even these people are now exhausted.
Because of the ‘covidiots’, the COVID case numbers keep going up.
But the ones that suffer are the people that have been good citizens, diligently waiting for the health restrictions to get lifted so they can see their family and friends.
They are feeling infantilized by health authorities that have no issue with overcrowded malls but think seeing one’s aging parents over the holidays is cause for alarm. They feel distburbed that neighbors are being encouraged to report on one another through a handy ‘tip line’.
In Canada, many politicians were caught vacationing outside the country over the holiday season, flouting orders they themselves had given, fueling public outrage. And also, flights of non-residents keep arriving into the city, teeming with COVID cases.
And meanwhile, the restrictions to all social gatherings here in BC have been extended yet again to Feb 5. I have talked to several people that have decided they will now host friends in their home — quietly, of course. Maybe one other couple they know and trust to keep them safe.
They feel resentful that they should live with the threat of fines hanging over their heads for inviting a childhood friend over for tea when anti-mask rallies are allowed to proceed. Rights to protest peacefully are unassailable, after all.
What about our rights over the sacred domains of our own homes?
There are no easy answers to this situation. We have now reached a point where the scales are tipping from physical health risks to mental health risks. Even rational people are starting to say — enough.
Human beings are social creatures. There’s only so long we can be willingly locked up.
I don’t envy the position our health authorities are in right now. Tough choices need to be made. You cannot make everyone happy and keep them healthy at the same time. You can make rules but can’t enforce compliance in every single situation.
Personally, I am going to continue being careful in protecting myself and my family from COVID. I will wear my mask and limit my social interactions. But I don’t see a problem with having a close friend over — someone that I know has been following the rules — over for a glass of wine and a platter of cheese. I may go for a walk with a business acquaintance, breathing in the fresh air through our triple layer masks. I may go see a client at their place of business.
The pandemic is not over. And despite the promise of vaccines, its not expected to wane in the next 6–9 months. The biggest risk right now is that even careful people are tired.
We need to start to open some doors, if even just a crack, to let others in. We need to come together as a community, instead of being encouraged to report on one another. And we need to band together to roundly condemn the most rebellious amongst us that are putting everyone at risk.
It sounds very 2020, but we will get through this.
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