There Is No Turning the Corner, No Hump to Get Over
Waiting and wishing for a quick fix to the pandemic has always been magical thinking, and it’s time to face that truth
My parents and my mother-in-law are getting their first vaccine shots this week. We live in Georgia, one of the states that’s doing the worst at rolling out vaccines, and getting them appointments took every ounce of our patience and intestinal fortitude. Securing an appointment to get the vaccine that will help end the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years is more difficult than calling the cable company’s customer service number.
I tell ya: This country’s just firing on all cylinders right now.
The pandemic has been a destabilizing event in every aspect of American life, from finance to employment to health to entertainment to just going to the freaking grocery store, but what is often missed is what it has done most urgently: It has made us desperately worried about the people closest to us, the ones we see every day. Everyone always worries about the people they love; that’s a large part of what loving someone is. But for the first time in my life, I’ve had to confront, fact-to-face, every day, the very real possibility of a person I care about contracting a fatal disease. I do not want to personally get Covid-19, but that’s not what has occupied my mind throughout this pandemic: I’ve been anguished about my family getting it. I can imagine something happening to me. I cannot imagine something happening to them.
So the vaccine for those three people, the members of the family in the highest-risk group, is going to come as an incredible relief. Sure, it has been an absolute nightmare trying to secure these appointments: My mother is driving three hours on Wednesday to get hers, in what is essentially a vacant lot, having secured her spot by refreshing a website over and over until it finally accepted her email address, which is the only information the (mysterious, possibly fictional) vaccinators have about her. (In one town here in Georgia, appointments are being given out via the mayor’s Facebook feed.) But still: If it gets my mom vaccinated, that’s all I need. And if she does get her shot from Dr. Nick Riviera, it will feel like the turning of a corner, a hump we’ve been desperately trying to get over. If I know that she and my dad and the other high-risk members of my family are going to be OK, it will take one of my primary worries, maybe the primary worry, off of my shoulders. Right? Right?
One of the bigger fallacies we have told ourselves, from the beginning of this pandemic, is that we just need to get through this difficult time, that we must merely survive this point in order to pass through to sunnier times ahead. First it was just the first few months of lockdown, back when the goal was to #flattenthecurve. Those few months became a lot of months; then the goal was to just make it through the election. Then the goal was to make through Trump’s refusal to concede. Now the goal is simply to survive the crazed insurrectionists threatening the inauguration while staying safe from the biggest Covid-19 surge we’ve had yet in this country. But I’m sure when we get through that, we’ll be fine. Then it will be better.
This magical thinking — thinking that, I will confess, has very much gotten me through this as well — has been proven wrong time and time again. And it has proven harmful. So many of our institutional responses to Covid-19 were all based in the idea that this was a temporary problem, that we just needed to plow through it to reach brighter times ahead. But it has all just kept getting worse. In two months, it will have been a full year since March 11, the night of Trump’s sniffling Oval Office speech, of Rudy Gobert shutting down the NBA, of Tom Hanks testing positive. That night felt like the worst night fathomable when it happened. And there have been at least a dozen worse nights since then. It sure feels like there are worse nights to come.
You can even see this in the official government response, which, from the beginning, appears to have been a mix of “hope the vaccines bail us out” and “herd immunity?” We are deeply fortunate, despite the terrible rollout, that vaccines have been available so quickly. But what an awful indictment that the big plan essentially boiled down to, “hope and pray for an unprecedented medical achievement.” We acted like this would be over quickly without ever making the sacrifice necessary to give that a chance of happening. And here we are: In a deeper hole than we were in the first place.
I have spent most of this pandemic certain that if my high-risk loved ones just could be safe, I could ease up, I could relax a little, I could take a breath. But even this week, with my family getting their first vaccination shots, I find it more difficult to catch my breath than ever. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught me, it’s that there is no turning of the corner, no getting over the hump. There is just more work left to do, more holes to be plugged, more problems to be fixed. There is no moment when we Make It Through. There’s just more work. Maybe acknowledging that is the first step. Maybe that’s what we should have all been doing in the first place.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel “How Lucky,” released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.