Two Years of the Covid-19 Pandemic and Counting
How have 24 months of illness, anxiety, solitude, and disruption changed us?
I didn’t want to let the anniversary of the Covid-19 crisis go unremarked. I hope this will be an interactive post: if you have friends who wish to join us in a conversation about how our lives have changed in the past two years, please:
Two years ago today, driven by fear of Covid-19, my partner and I began spring break by throwing a lot of books and clothes in tote bags and driving north out of New York City. You can read about that ambivalent moment here.
It seems like forever ago that we arrived, three hours later, in a Massacusetts town that, like New York, was already shutting down, and I picked up an 800-page historical novel I had ordered by sliding my credit card through a crack in the door. We gathered supplies, scouring local stores for hand sanitizer, latex gloves (remember those?), and Kleenex. We took cash out of the bank. We bought what toilet paper was available and stockpiled food for a moment—we were told—when everyone in the country might be so ill that no food would arrive in stores.
We are still eating the beans, rice, pasta, raisins, canned fruit, and oatmeal that we stockpiled then. Our nieces, who sew, made us brightly-colored cloth masks and sent them in the mail. Later, we learned that this, too, was probably ineffective.
We were told by the authorities this situation might last at least three weeks. At school, administrators informed us that we would “pivot” to Zoom for at least a couple of weeks after break, and then the situation would be reassessed. As we know, things got indescribably worse before they got better, and we stayed on Zoom until the fall of 2021.
So, where are we today? We live in a world that seems the same but is different. Here are a few of my observations.
There are a lot of missing people. But, predictably, the almost 1 million people who died in the United States were the oldest, the poorest, the brownest, and those who occupied the lowest rungs of the employment ladder.
Hundreds of thousands of white conservatives died, too, many before they got to pull the lever a second time for Donald Trump. Funny that the guy looking for 80,000 votes to win Georgia didn’t wonder what he might have done to keep those people alive until November.
What we could not have predicted is that, even as the United States loses over 1000 of its citizens every day to the disease, we would all be cheerfully reassuring each other that the Covid-19 crisis is over. Nor could we have predicted that many of those people are dying because they still won’t take a safe and effective vaccine.
Yet there is no crisis that creative people cannot use to cheat people. So what did we not predict? That millions of Americans would refuse to believe that the virus existed at all or that if it did, they could cure it with everyday household items like bleach and animal-worming paste. As a result, medical quackery cost Americans $13.4 million in only the first month of the pandemic.
The good news is that Americans who can do so are beginning to rethink their lives and live for themselves again. The first great shock of the pandemic was the number of businesses that either closed permanently or furloughed employees. I thought there was an even-up chance of my university closing, as some did in the first months after campuses sent their students home.
I began to wonder how I would handle being forcibly unemployed two years before Medicare, and it seemed like both a disaster and an opportunity. But, in the end, opportunity prevailed. I learned that I had more than enough money to retire and am planning accordingly.
Apparently, more than a few people felt this way: during the so-called “Great Resignation,” American workers have voted with their feet, and many don’t seem to think they have to be unhappy on the job anymore. In May 2021, Forbes calculated that 26% of American workers were either planning to change careers, 80% because they felt they had become stalled during the pandemic. But 40% of those workers were also motivated because they did not feel well treated.
Not accidentally, there seems to be a spike of interest in the work of the late anthropologist David Graeber, who died of non-pandemic causes in September 2020. A scholar of capitalism, Graeber was increasingly writing about how degrading, and stupid work is.
Mental health is fragile. In my industry, higher ed, there is a lot of attention to student mental health issues, but not so much to how university employees are doing or how pandemic conditions have eroded our sense of community and well-being. I don’t think the situation is good, and I would be interested in how people are experiencing their campus reopenings. While students are back in class at my shop, the libraries, and study spaces, administrative assistants are still mostly working from home, and faculty seem to mostly come in, teach their classes, and go home.
Two years later, we have been told that we may use our offices, but no one does as far as I can tell. I go, religiously, once a week, and the only other person on the floor is a student work-study receptionist. Why? The context for going to work has evaporated: there are no on-campus meetings of any kind, on-campus events have only barely begun to return, and we are still running projects on Zoom. Not surprisingly, faculty remain disconnected from each other, and it is hard to know how or who will restore our sense of mutual commitments and mission.
I don’t think my campus is unique, and I suspect this situation will have a particularly devastating impact on younger hires. For example, I have a friend on another campus who took a job there at the beginning of the pandemic, has worked remotely for two years, and may leave for another job without ever setting foot on campus. That is why this person is trying to go: they report that they have never been so depressed and disappointed about work in their entire career.
We are in the midst of a new housing bubble, driven not by cheap money and easy mortgages but by lifestyle changes. As it turned out, the vast majority of professional people not only did not lose their jobs. Instead, they benefitted from the churn in the employment market that the Great Resignation ignited. But a combination of realizing how vulnerable they were to disease in the city and being forced to stay home made home-ownership appealing. Bidding wars goosed housing prices 16% in the first year of the pandemic: Boise, Idaho, saw a 28% jump from Silicon Valley folks who realized they could get three times the house for half the price. Of course, they now live in Boise.
Readers, what significant changes have you seen? Let’s talk about it in the comments section—and don’t forget the positive ones!
Lara Putnam went looking for QAnon conspiracy theorists on Facebook and instead found…child predators. Lots of them, and trolling for children between the ages of 9 and 12. Wouldn’t Facebook have developed a method for taking these pages down, particularly since children under 13 are not permitted on the platform at all? “I would have thought so,” Putnam writes in Wired. “Until I stumbled into these groups and began, with rising disbelief, to find it impossible to get them taken down.” And she tried. (March 13, 2022)
Can Donald Trump’s “America First” nonsense survive Russia’s attack on Ukraine? The Former Guy’s antipathy to NATO, and any engagement outside US borders, has moved to the fringe of the GOP as casualties in Ukraine mount and senior Republicans settle into what is, for them, a comfortable place: foreign policy hawkishness. As Max Greenwood and Amie Parnes report at The Hill. Numerous polls show American reluctance to fight a war with nuclear power. But at the same time, “a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week found that an overwhelming majority of Americans — 79 percent — would support a military response if Russia were to attack one of the United States’ NATO allies, including 82 percent of Republicans.” (March 12, 2022)
Late last week, the Republican-dominated Idaho State Senate defeated two voter security (or voter suppression) measures. As Kelcie Mosely-Morris of the Idaho Capital-Sun reports, one disallowed all ID except for a driver’s license or other ID with the voter’s address on it. The other “required county clerks to visit the home of voters who registered online and could not vote in person because of a disability or illness.” Why? These measures clashed with other Idaho values: they would be expensive to implement and contravene the voter’s privacy. Current election law permits voters not to reveal an address, which some legislators saw as a public safety issue, especially for women. (March 11, 2022)
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