I haven't written about Covid-19 for a while. I am sure with the constant amount of reporting on the progress of the pandemic, my musings have not been missed. But sometimes I like to make records, just to remind myself of how my experience has shifted. The last time I wrote about Covid-19, it was to describe the custom of howling, a custom that has faded away. And we never decided that it would go away, it just dropped off. And there lies the problem.
I live in California, the first state to go under quarantine, (or, we we called it in those more naive days, about three months ago, "social distancing"). I remember the first trip to the Safeway where we spent over 100 dollars, and I wrote in my journal, on March 18th "I need one more big shopping trip this week. And then maybe find a way to spend a week or two or more inside" and a day later "Ask me by April 1st which way things are heading". For the first few weeks, I did only leave my house once a week. But there was a simplicity there, because my only tasks in life were staying inside, and not spreading the disease. In the worst world crisis since World War II, my duty was to stay inside. And I know this might sound insensitive, given the immense human toll that it has taken, in lives, health, and livelihood, but it was at least exciting. It was a new thing. There was a sense of unity, at least for a short while. And this is easy to forget now: the question over social distancing wasn't about the economic damage it might entail, but whether it would work. There were at least ten long, scary days between Italy's quarantine and the disease slowing down its growth. And there I was, camped inside, with pizza and cookies, and my world had collapsed to a single goal: don't spread the disease.
It was also cold and dark. I live in Humboldt County, and it was still winter, which is typically very cloudy and rainy here. It was easy to stay inside.
For the past month, however, the virus has ceased to be the central fact of life. In part, this was because the quarantine stopped the spread of the virus, but also because our mental ability to be in crisis mode is not unlimited. In March, I would treat buttons for walk signals as if they were radioactive. Now, I just try to remember to pull down my shirt sleeve when I press them. And also, for me, the days have become long and full of sun. The time of my life when "stay inside" can be my guiding principle are gone.
But here is the thing: we never really got Covid-19 under control. It stopped spreading, but right now we are still an indefinite time and series of steps away from the time when we can even start to think about having large events, travelling far, or for that matter, go to a grocery store without a mask. The death toll, which was over 1,000 people a day throughout April, settled down in May, and is now a few hundred people a day. But it still is in no way normal. After a few brief weeks of emergency and unity, we settled into a grind where we had to accept that "normal life" would be curtailed, and that we would still have a high death toll. We are stuck, not in an emergency, not in a time when we at least had the comfort of a shared misery, but in a time when there is no clear way forward, and where obvious facts of life like "wash your hands" are now fodder for the culture wars. Somehow, while Covid-19 is still going on, while it may, in fact, still be ready to hit another wave, we are stumbling back into "the new normal", with no idea what that actually means.