Now that we have been through more than a year of COVID, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see how things have turned out differently than expected. Here are some of my thoughts.
A) I never expected things would still be closed and I would still be working from home after a year passed. Back in March 2020, I thought COVID would either be snuffed out or burn through the whole population within several months. I didn’t anticipate that we would find a balance between remote work and partial opening, moderate suffering and moderate protection of health, all under government mandates that were sufficiently suppressive to greatly disrupt life but not so bad as to provoke massive rebellion. I’m not sure this outcome will have been best in the long run.
B) Closing schools in March 2020 was understandable considering the appearance of a strange new disease, but I was absolutely sure that no matter what else was closed, public schools would be open again in fall because otherwise how would kids get an education and be supervised while parents worked? To my astonishment, public schools have remained pretty much closed for more than a year, despite the abundant evidence that remote education does not work well, especially for the less privileged. My conclusion is that we have truly become a post-natal society. It also appears that the career mom is now an archetype of the past, and I expect going forward we will hear fewer calls for government-provided after-school programs and daycare to aid working mothers because the corporate norm will instead become childlessness. I additionally expect public schooling will go into decline as a social institution because who can believe the rhetoric about professionalism and service to the community when the teachers collectively go AWOL for a year?
C) The surprising bright spot is the rapid development of vaccines (Operation Warp Speed), for which I hope President Trump will eventually receive credit. In anticipation of later points, I will note that this was accomplished by recognizing that the cost of the pandemic was so great that covering the costs to develop ten vaccines in the hope that one would work would pay off a thousand-fold. Ten years from now, this may be viewed as the most effective response to the pandemic since even those countries that successfully eliminated COVID within their borders cannot safely reopen without the rest of the world vaccinated.
D) The inflexibility of the medical establishment, especially within the federal agencies, has far surpassed my lowest expectations. The past fifteen months have demonstrated that there is enormous capacity within the United States to research COVID and develop solutions, but at every turn the FDA and CDC have slowed this down and placed roadblocks in order to slavishly follow “peacetime” protocols and maintain control. We could have had widespread testing and vaccines several months earlier (thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars) if only the federal regulators would govern by principle that in the face of a devastating pandemic, “good enough now” is vastly preferable to “closer to perfect later”. It is troubling that so many people view following a bureaucratic procedure as the same as being scientific and ethical.
E) Considering the obvious failures and grave mistakes of the medical and public health authorities, I’ve been surprised that so little has been done to hold people to account, even if only in the court of public opinion. At first, I attributed this to Trump being President since the widespread hostility towards him by the Establishment would make it difficult for Trump to reform the federal agencies and instead make him the scapegoat for all failures. But now I realize that over the past several decades no one has ever been held to account for manifest errors in military intervention, financial regulation, economic policy, etc. This does not bode well for the future of the America.
F) After lockdowns, mass layoffs, and the continued closure of so many business, I expected substantial economic devastation. Yet state and local tax revenues are not down, and the stock and housing markets are way up. How can this reconciled to reports that a large number of people are months behind on rent or mortgage payments, or homeless or short on food? Are most people actually doing fine financially? Or did the federal stimulus payments make everything okay? Or has the hit to landlords/banks/federal debt/etc not been counted in the numbers yet? Or are a large number of people simply economically superfluous such that if they and their jobs disappeared, it wouldn’t be noticed? I don’t get it.
G) I feel sad for all the businesses and organizations going under after a year of mandatory closure that provide meaningful or at least enjoyable personal experiences – not just restaurants but also Christian camps, colleges, museums, zoos, aquariums, orchestras, amusement parks, theaters, and more. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more protest. Or is Zoom and Netflix now a suitable substitute for all that?
H) Masks. Of all hills, why was this the one to die on?