By summer, the pandemic may feel like it’s behind us — even if it’s not

By | February 21, 2021

James Hamblin writes:

Until very recently, Anthony Fauci had been citing August as the month by which the U.S. could vaccinate 70 to 80 percent of the population and reach herd immunity. Last week, he suddenly threw out May or early June as a window for when most Americans could have access to vaccines. Despite some concerns about new coronavirus variants, Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told me that he doesn’t see viral mutation as a reason to expect that most people couldn’t be well protected within that time frame.

If all of this holds true, it would mean that many aspects of pre-pandemic life will return even before summer is upon us. Because case numbers guide local policies, much of the country could soon have reason to lift many or even most restrictions on distancing, gathering, and masking. Pre-pandemic norms could return to schools, churches, and restaurants. Sports, theater, and cultural events could resume. People could travel and dance indoors and hug grandparents, their own or others’. In most of the U.S., the summer could feel … “normal.”

The feeling could even go beyond that. The pain wrought by the virus has differed enormously by location, race, and class, but a global pandemic still may be as close as the world can come to a shared tragedy. Periods of intense hardship are sometimes followed by unique moments of collective catharsis or awakening. The 1918 influenza that left the planet short of some 50 million people—several times as many as had just been killed in a gruesome war—gave way to the Roaring ’20s, when Americans danced and flouted Prohibition, hearing the notes that weren’t being played. For some, the summer of 2021 might conjure that of 1967, when barefoot people swayed languidly in the grass, united by an appreciation for the tenuousness of life. Pre-pandemic complaints about a crowded subway car or a mediocre sandwich could be replaced by the awe of simply riding a bus or sitting in a diner. People might go out of their way to talk with strangers, merely to gaze upon the long-forbidden, exposed mouth of a speaking human.

In short, the summer could feel revelatory. The dramatic change in the trajectory and tenor of the news could give a sense that the pandemic is over. The energy of the moment could be an opportunity—or Americans could be dancing in the eye of a hurricane. [Continue reading…]

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