Hope Is Alive, But Will We Learn?


Matthew Broder

I think we all remember where we were when we first got the news that we would be quarantining for “two weeks” last March. It was Spring Break. We all knew that COVID-19 was spreading quickly, but it really wasn’t on the forefront of anyone’s mind. A few hundred people here in America had caught it, but we had been through pandemic scares before – H1N1, Ebola, SARS, and Zika. Why would this be any different? 

I was lounging on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, having only worn a mask on Halloween. Then we got the email; that’s when it got real. But hey, it’s a two-week vacation. Let’s not worry about it. Then we blinked and now it’s January 2021 and almost 400,000 have died with almost 300,000 getting sick each day.

 It’s no secret that things are looking pretty grim. But each passing day is one day closer to when this will all be over. Two million people in the US have already been vaccinated, and that number is growing every day. While a vaccine has not yet been approved for those under 18, experts say it’s coming soon. With so many developments, what does an updated path back to normalcy look like?

Whether or not we’ve seen COVID-19’s worst, the general consensus among experts is that 2021 will be better than 2020. But these first few months still are going to be difficult. Hospitals are still being overwhelmed with patients infected over the holiday season and vaccination campaigns are proceeding more slowly than originally anticipated. The original plan was to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of January, but that seems quite ambitious at this point in time. The uncertainty regarding the transition of presidential power and Biden’s course of action once he takes office isn’t helping in that regard either. Furthermore, with the new British strain, which is said to be nearly 70% more contagious, starting to spread across the US, only time will tell how the vaccine fairs against it. Early studies by the FDA, though, do say that the vaccines will be just as effective.

In Spring

By spring, things will definitely have improved. Assuming everything goes as planned, vaccines are starting to be distributed to healthy Americans under 18. It’s estimated by some that by spring 100 million Americans will have received the first dose of the vaccine, and priority groups to receive the vaccine would now include people under 65 with pre-existing medical conditions. Death tolls should be decreasing dramatically, as most of the vulnerable population has been vaccinated. By May, indoor gatherings may not be out of the question (even without masks). “Maybe there is still some amount of social distancing,” says Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “Maybe the place I go to has to have its windows open and it’s a little bit chillier and I’m wearing a sweater even though it’s May.”

In Summer

As summer comes and goes, we should see major progress. At this point, some half of the country has been vaccinated, and, as a result, larger outdoor gatherings are safe in certain parts of the country. Fourth of July and Labor Day gatherings are permissible. Sports stadiums are beginning to open again with higher capacities, with social distancing and mask-wearing still in place. Transmission rates have plummeted as we edge closer to what we can safely call “herd immunity.” By the fall, schools are reopening in person, possibly even without masks, as teachers have had an opportunity to get vaccinated. Nine-to-fivers are returning to the office. Life is getting ever closer to what we can call “normal.”

In Autumn

By Halloween, nearly every American who wants the vaccine should have access to it. Trick-or-treating is back full-force, and indoor house parties are safe enough in most places, though the risk of infection is still high in certain areas. Indoor concerts have probably made a comeback, as have sleepovers. A year and a half since this all started, things probably look pretty normal. According to Jha, “By fall, we’ll all be able to take a true sigh of relief.” As the holidays are approaching, masks may still be required on planes, but airports overall are much safer. Indoor multigenerational and multifamily holiday gatherings are safe, though masks are still recommended in the case that not everyone has been vaccinated. 

In Winter

By the end of 2021, we will probably be nearing some sort of herd immunity, with close to 70% of the population vaccinated (75% is required for herd immunity). But before we rush to do everything we couldn’t, we’re going to need to look back. The US has very uniquely struggled with COVID-19, and, more than anything, we’ll need to take it as a learning lesson. Before all of this, we seemed invincible, but the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that we’re not. When the next pandemic hits, are we going to be stronger because of what we’ve gone through over the past two years? Can we say confidently, looking at everything going on now, that next time people are really going to take it seriously? 

In Conclusion

So far, I don’t think we’ve learned our lesson. Take a look at Instagram on a Sunday morning: how many people do you see here or there, maskless and shameless? How many people do you see in the “outdoor” dining sections of restaurants? Until everyone can swallow their pride and listen to the experts, nothing is going to change. And to those who think “it can’t happen to them,” COVID can seem like a far-off problem. Just tell that to the 3,000 Americans dying per day.