Like most people, I spent most of 2020 hiding from the Covid virus. This virus was the deadliest thing to emerge in my lifetime, and would eventually claim over one million American lives. Covid was especially troublesome because it was a novel virus- one that had never been seen before. Novel viruses are rare, because most of the viruses that we encounter are descendants and mutations of viruses that our bodies and medical systems have had a lot of experience with.
Recently, I tested positive for Covid-19, after having dodged it successfully for over two years, and it's caused me to isolate even more and reflect on this mad, sad journey that we've all been on. My Covid was a mild case, not unlike a bad cold, and thanks to general good health and vaccinations, I came through a lot better than those who first contracted this terrible disease. The stories of long Covid, brain fog , permanent lung damage or other organ damage are scary, and we knew from the beginning that this was not a virus to be laughed off.
This tiny little microbe exposed so many weaknesses in our world that I will never quite understand why a thing that should have brought us all together ended up just splitting us apart like everything else. Diseases don't care about your age, race, politics, or anything you cling to for your identity. They hit the good and the bad alike, but for some reason we needed a villain on whom to blame this pandemic. Bad things come from bad people, so the theory goes, and if you identify and eliminate the bad people, the bad things will go away.
So the first villains of the Covid epidemic were the Chinese, who supposedly created the virus in a secret lab and unleashed it on their own country and then the world. People tried calling it the "China" virus, even without any evidence of a conspiracy of Chinese scientists. Given the totalitarian nature of China today, it's unfortunately believable that they could have started all of this accidentally. The alternate theory is that the virus originated in wild animals, maybe a bat. The "wet markets' of Wuhan were fertile breeding grounds for a virus like this that had never encountered mankind before. But it's hard to get mad at an animal. Or a random accident of nature. It's much easier to take people you already distrust and try to pin it on them. The scariest part of that theory is that as more and more wild habitat gets destroyed, more wild animals will come into close contact with humans and more novel viruses are possible.
But the secret Chinese lab thing is the thing that spread, along with a depressing assortment of conspiracy theories and disinformation about a real and dangerous virus that was spreading across the globe. Now scientists and public health professionals were being cast as the bad guy in our fanatical need to blame someone, anyone for the suffering we were seeing. At first the scientists were blowing everything out of proportion in order to change an election. Then the scientists and doctors were conspiring to control us with their drugs while hiding the "true" cures out there. Lines were drawn and identities were forged based on whether people got vaccinated, wore masks, and took basic public health precautions.
This insanity had real and lasting consequences. People that could be alive today died because they didn't believe what they heard about vaccines and public health precautions. Told not to gather in large groups, people did it anyway, and spread the virus to each other in ways that accelerated the damage that the virus was able to do the first year. Many people who disregarded the warnings are now stuck with long Covid- a series of debilitating long-term side effects from the disease that we still don't understand.
The victims of the disease include many who never got sick. Public health professionals left their jobs because of the harassment and death threats that they experienced from trying to do their jobs. Medical professionals quit in large numbers because of the intense stress and long hours that the pandemic created. It broke people- physically, mentally, and spiritually. And countless children and spouses now have to live with regret and guilt after watching a loved one pass away from Covid, wondering if there was something that they could have done differently to prevent a lonely death on a respirator.
Covid has humbled a lot of people to the possibilities of the natural world and our own fragility. Before vaccines, it was common for people to die young. Only a few generations ago, it wasn't unheard of for children and adults to get polio and be confined to a wheelchair for life. If there was any lesson I took from the pandemic, it was to respect science and the potential dangers that we still face as humans. Human dominance of planet Earth is likely only temporary, and the more care and humility we take in dealing with the world, the longer we will survive and thrive in it.
The other lesson that I took from the pandemic was that no matter how much we need to blame bad guys for our problems, sometimes there are no bad guys to blame. Sometimes bad things just happen for no reason, and the only response is not to look for a scapegoat, but to look for answers. We are constantly looking for someone else to pin the blame upon because we're terrified it could be us. Politics is no longer about ideas but about demonizing the other side. Religion is not about love and forgiveness but looking for wicked people and blaming them for everything bad in the world. Enough already. Covid is not an evil plot, but a relentless virus that doesn't care what identity we cling to.
There will be future threats worse than this one. How we meet them will say a lot about what, if anything, we've learned so far. One million lives lost is an expensive lesson.