The Perfect Enemy | Opinion: COVID-19 is still a threat. It’s time to put masks on again - Cape Cod Times
March 1, 2024

Opinion: COVID-19 is still a threat. It’s time to put masks on again – Cape Cod Times

Opinion: COVID-19 is still a threat. It’s time to put masks on again  Cape Cod Times

I’m sick of sickness. I contracted COVID-19 about two weeks ago and at this writing, am flattened still.

The new variant is believed to be the world’s most contagious yet and has become prevalent here in the Northeast. Cape infections climbed during the first few weeks of January. You’d think you’d see more masks being worn. You’d think I’d have been wearing one, but some of us (like me) felt safe, all boostered up. Others among us refused to mask up when there was no vaccine at all when there was no remedy and over 4,000 Americans were dying of COVID-19 every day.

It’s not just that there’s a new variant. It shows multiple faces even to individual sufferers. Fevers come and go. First, it’s the throat — or the head — then it messes with the bowels, or our smell and taste. It’s at its most deadly when it gets into the lungs.

Lawrence Brown

COVID-19 is infinitely improvisational. It doesn’t just infect you; it messes with you. A friend woke up with hives all over his body. Fingers and toes can swell and turn purple. For some, symptoms and crushing fatigue can last for months. I’m well into my second week, no fever left but no relief either.

But we’re still the lucky ones. Five hundred Americans are still dying of COVID-19 every day … well over a million of us so far. And it’s still not done with us.

Historians point out that pandemics not only take their toll on mortality; they leave a profound sociological, economic and psychological wake behind them, too, that often takes a generation to work out. Sometimes, it seems to me, there is the actual pathogen — and then different societies have their own pathologies that determine the final outcomes.

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Take China, for example. COVID-19 seems to have originated there. Until recently, its government attempted to contain the outbreak by rigidly locking down the population wherever an infection occurred. Families could be separated, even parents and children — by compulsion if necessary. Western vaccines were not available and domestic ones appear not to have been as effective. Nor was there a concentrated effort to vaccinate the elderly. With the lunar New Year upon us, millions are visiting relatives in the countryside where insufficient infrastructure exists to handle mass infections. China may see up to two million deaths, a tidal wave of terror and grief.

Autocracies have built-in co-morbidities. When the Chinese people could no longer stand the lockdowns and protested, the government had no way to process mass public criticism, so it abruptly ended the confinement, leaving a sixth of the world’s population with no effective Plan B. On a single December day, an estimated 37 million people in China were infected, maybe a quarter-billion in only 3 weeks. COVID-19, ever inventive, is about to have an explosive opportunity to come up with a host of new variants to infect the world with.

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American democracy suffers co-morbidities of its own. It’s not that we politicized the virus. Any crisis requires a public response and we’re going to disagree about what is best. But we’ve divided ourselves over whether COVID-19 was even real. Roughly a third of us have decided that the real problem is “so-called” experts who think they know more than the rest of us. Several statehouses were occupied by armed protesters convinced that any attempt by the government to legislate a coherent response to the pandemic was a fundamental assault on liberty. 

With vaccines free for the taking, only 68% of Americans have chosen to fully protect themselves. In America as in China, what we believe has profound consequences. It can even kill us — and the statistics bear that out.

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Here on Cape Cod, we have one of the highest infection rates in the state (up 5% in the last two weeks). On average, we’re losing a neighbor a day. 

As I recover, I might expect at least a 6-month immunity from COVID-19. I don’t like wearing masks and for the last year, I was convinced I no longer needed to. But I’ll be carrying a mask now, at least for crowds and public places. Since every infected person got COVID-19 from someone, may I suggest you consider wearing a mask, too?

Lawrence Brown is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times.  Email him at columnresponse@gmail.com.

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