When covid starts to become the flu

First, to be clear to newcomers: I am very much to the left side of the political spectrum — but I dislike disregarding the practical side of things. Passion and pragmatism are like a compass and a map; you need both to get where you’re going. I’m the kind of person who’s been masking and double-masking for most of every day for the last year and change. I speak from a personally informed perspective, and certainly not from anyone’s talking points let alone the right-wing. I articulate genuine concerns here.

As vaccine usage increases, we need to be more careful about distinguishing between cases and deaths.

Historically this last year, they’ve tracked one another so it made some practical sense to treat the two as synonymous. However, the whole idea is that the vaccines make covid honestly as mild as the flu. It’s become taboo to say “covid is basically the flu” for very good reason, but we need to understand the difference between that misinformation then and the genuine functional similarity now with people up-to-date on their shot regimens.

In particular, I’m thinking of WA Governor Inslee contemplating sending King County back to basically a more restrictive lockdown phase than we’re currently in because of rising cases. I get it, but first deaths are staying down and that’s what we’re mainly concerned with, and second I’m also worried that this logic is too antiquated (and I sympathize with how quickly real-time crises can render such logic antiquated) given the fundamental shift in dynamics.

I’m especially worried about that dissonance given those infamous economic consequences. Obviously some degree of shutdown and quarantine was initially needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But right now we’re in a bad phase where we’re about to start oscillating low-wage food service workers back and forth like a yo-yo with this “awesome we’re in a better stage,” “wait no we need to roll back for public safety,” then again “okay we’re back to being in a better stage again!” dynamic.

These people have had to deal with the highly uncertain rhythm of layoff, hire, layoff, hire (on top of the low wages and existential exhaustion of such a line of work) for too long as it is. Even if rightly mitigated by the increased unemployment benefits, this pattern of living everyday life makes any rational person skeptical of returning to the industry: especially given the popularized alternative notion of working from home via Zoom and such, and so avoiding the uncertainty altogether. Unfortunately, the reasons why many workers end up in the industry to begin with don’t systemically change in the meantime (and that would be a very good problem to address at another time) so their misery is just exacerbated — and/or they just don’t come back to work and whole sectors of the economy flounder.

And how many lives would really be saved by these sudden rollbacks at this point? We’re not in the initial stages of the pandemic anymore, and we need to stop acting like it. The proliferation of vaccines, as potentially undermined by the Johnson & Johnson suspension as it has been, has made it so that we can probably just start treating covid to some extent like the flu.

We don’t shut down whole economic sectors to stop the spread of the flu. We need to realize and acknowledge the increasing discrepancy between covid cases and deaths: because the whole idea is that we originally took extreme measures to stop the latter, not the former.

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Christopher Sharp

This effort has evolved to primarily be for clearly communicating technical subject matter to the public: largely my two passions astrophysics and space travel.