As many North Americans rush to get their vaccines, confusion remains as to what comes next.
While everyone is responsible for this misperception, public health agencies, journalists, and politicians continue to use language and frames that do not reflect the current science or research available.
Similarly this pandemic is global, and gains made in one region can be undermined in another. The most potent example of this are variants, which incubate in under vaccinated regions and then return to pose a threat to the vaccinated.
North Americans are therefore trifling when they act as if the pandemic is over.
One of the biggest attributes of a narcissist is their belief that the world is as they imagine it to be. The greater the narcissist, the greater their ability to assert their perception of reality over others. The previous POTUS was a powerful example of this.
If you choose to be humble enough to recognize that the world is not always as we imagine it to be, then it can be helpful to use narratives and frames that more accurately reflect available scientific research.
As I was laid back last week, I thought of a frame to describe our pandemic, articulated in four stages (that we each may experience differently and at different times).
Stage One: Chaos and Denial
The first stage is chaos and denial. For some of us, this was December 2019 up to perhaps March 2020.
Unfortunately there are many others who are still in this first pandemic stage.
On the one hand there’s the chaos that a pandemic unleashes. There’s nothing inevitable about this, unless of course there’s no preparation or emergency readiness as was generally the case in this instance.
Yet chaos should be a temporary state. One that requires adaptation, and new structures/systems.
Which is why denial can be such a powerful partner to chaos, as it can prevent or inhibit the need to adapt and redesign.
There still seems to be a lot of people who remain in denial, and almost certainly experience chaos as a result.
Maybe we take for granted that getting past stage one is as simple as accepting that we’re in a pandemic, and that we face a powerful and formidable threat that requires us to do things differently.
Stage Two: Lockdown and Resistance
The lack of preparation and public education greatly limits the public’s ability to comprehend the pandemic.
Similarly messaging that focused on pandemic theatre and useless rituals like sterilizing surfaces distracted people from the reality of airborne transmission.
Not only did this require lockdowns as a blunt instrument to prevent superspreading, but it also encouraged widespread resistance, not just to lockdowns, but to the pandemic as a whole.
Rather than regard this as a collective effort where everyone’s health matters, it instead turned into a dysfunctional mess that prioritizes some lives over others.
Language that focused on economic impacts has been meaningless and delusional as it ignores the long term economic costs of completely mismanaging and misunderstanding the pandemic as a whole.
Lockdowns are a legitimately unpleasant and frustrating stage of this pandemic, however they can be put behind us with widespread vaccination. Too bad that too is facing resistance, albeit less so here in Canada.
A lot of people, especially narcissists, do not believe that lockdowns apply to them, or believe that they’re past the lockdown stage.
On some levels we hope that this is true. That the pandemic no longer requires this blunt instrument of lockdown to be wielded. Unfortunately that may not be the case.
At some point however we can and should move beyond lockdowns and resistance. We should be able to reach a stage where we can manage the risks and contain the threat.
Unfortunately that may not happen without appropriate comprehension and responsive systems.
Similarly it is not going to mean the pandemic is over.
That may be the big mistake many are now or will soon be making. Thinking that with the end of imposed lockdowns the pandemic is done and they can do what they wish.
Stage Three: The Variants Strike Back
The asymmetrical distribution and application of vaccines pretty much guarantees the development of virulent and effective variants. Given enough time, these variants can spread in spite of widespread vaccination.
The so called Delta variant is a good example of this.
Being fully vaccinated does make a massive difference in the impact of these variants, but it does not prevent further transmission and spread. Especially when a large enough subset of the population remains unvaccinated.
We should also be anticipating the need for booster shots, although we’re not there yet, as existing vaccines are still quite effective.
The problem however is that many still view Covid within the frame of the flu. That it’s an illness that is both inevitable and necessary to overcome.
Instead we should be doing the opposite. Preventing its further transmission and limiting the devastation it brings.
The variants will strike back, and in doing so, threaten to push us backwards and deeper into the pandemic.
Our strategy should not only be vaccination, but as fast and far as possible.
Similarly if we wish to make it past the variants, and out of this third stage of the pandemic, we require a new frame. One that does not compare this to the flu, but recognizes the severity of the threat and consequences.
This becomes easier when we recognize that the fourth stage of the pandemic may actually be the most difficult, and tragically will also be the longest.
Stage Four: Trauma and Disability
This pandemic has not only been a source of trauma, both individual, and collective, for most people, but is also the largest mass disabling event in recent history. We wrote about this in March, and since then more disturbing research has emerged regarding the long term impact Covid is having on many people.
The study, tracking the health insurance records of nearly two million people in the United States who contracted the coronavirus last year, found that one month or more after their infection, almost one-quarter — 23 percent — of them sought medical treatment for new conditions.
Those affected were all ages, including children. Their most common new health problems were pain, including in nerves and muscles; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure. Other issues included intestinal symptoms; migraines; skin problems; heart abnormalities; sleep disorders; and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Post-Covid health problems were common even among people who had not gotten sick from the virus at all, the study found. While nearly half of patients who were hospitalized for Covid-19 experienced subsequent medical issues, so did 27 percent of people who had mild or moderate symptoms and 19 percent of people who said they were asymptomatic.
One of the reasons this pandemic has been so difficult to manage, is that a lot of people transmit the virus and have the disease without realizing it! At least not in the moment.
What we’re increasingly learning, is that as a disease, Covid can have devastating long term impacts. Hence you may not feel it in the moment, but months or years later the damage will create other health issues.
I know this as a skin cancer patient who recognizes that sun burns from my childhood have turned into tumors in my middle age.
The body keeps score, and has a deep memory, especially for trauma, and we underestimate the impact this disease is having and will continue to have on people.
As a society there will be a significant cost to pay, either financially when it comes to care and accommodation, or politically when it comes to a growing segment of the population that will require and demand action. Or from a dystopian perspective, be further ignored and trampled upon by narcissists who think wearing a mask is beneath them.
Unfortunately pandemic fatigue does not translate into an end to the pandemic. Just because we’re tired, doesn’t mean we can quit. Sadly it’s not up to us. It’s up to a lethal and evolving virus that will cripple us if it can’t kill us.
Which is why vaccines are so crucial.
I gave a presentation earlier this week to my friends and staff at Durham College here in Ontario. The topic was why the future is bright, and how there’s a lot to look forward to as we keep moving through this pandemic.
However we’re not going to have that bright future if we don’t actually move through this pandemic. Denial ain’t gonna cut it. Nor will resistance. Instead we need to acknowledge the threat posed by variants, and prepare ourselves for the long healing and support structures that will be required for the fourth and most painful stage.
One of the (many) examples I gave as to why I feel the future is bright is the development of mRNA vaccines. This is a phenomenal technology that can and should be used to combat other viruses and diseases we face. Lyme disease is an obvious one.
Dr Katalin Kariko’s story is particularly inspiring.
There are lots of other examples, which we often touch upon in this newsletter, but the moral of today’s post is to encourage us all to get our shots and get everyone we care about to get theirs.
Which if you live in Ontario, means not waiting around for the government, but taking measures on your own to get the shot by any means necessary.
As our goats teach us, you gotta do what you gotta do.