Let’s Not Pretend to Care About Omicron
Omicron is scarcely different from Delta. Or Beta. Or Alpha. Why, then, are we talking about it like it’s something new?
Like Delta and Beta and even Alpha, we could see it coming. It was predictable. It was predictable from the moment rich countries rushed to save themselves first (and only). It was predictable from the moment the first person recoiled from the idea of wearing a mask. Its mutations were etched into the first cries of blame, as if that mattered. The virus’s being someone else’s fault doesn’t make it go away, but that’s what we cared about in the early days. Who let this happen? WHO let this happen. It’s foreign. All we have to do is shut ourselves inside our castle, and it can never touch us. Poe would be proud.
The headlines today all make it seem as if there is a lot going on to fight Omicron. Scientists are supposedly rushing to stop it. America, famously lax in its genome sequencing, is suddenly making a show of finding Omicron in a bunch of different states. Fear of Omicron is suddenly causing people to get vaccinated.
It’s all well and good, but if none of it worked to slow Delta, why on earth will any of it slow Omicron?
It’d be better to admit: we. don’t. care.
We didn’t care in the summer, when holding out a few more months with mask mandates and capacity restrictions at restaurants could have kept more of a lid on things. No, we took those restrictions off, because we. were. just. done. The virus wasn’t done, but we were ready to move on, so people started going back to the movies, back to dining in restaurants (and at full capacity!). We didn’t care when cases climbed exponentially yet again, in the fall. We didn’t care when we all got together for Thanksgiving, sending cases skyrocketing yet, yet, yet again.
What’s different this time? Oh, a few extra bumps on the spike protein? Why should that scare us? We’ve known its basic outline for years already. Despite its familiar spherical shape being burned into our brains, we’ve averted our eyes. And yet, we have to suffer through the headlines that make it seem like now we’re ready to take it seriously.
This half state — doing some things halfway, tricking ourselves into thinking we’re doing the right thing — isn’t helpful. We need to be honest about the location of the twin poles of response and honest about which one we’ve gravitated towards; we’re a lot closer to doing nothing than we are to doing anything meaningful.
To pretend otherwise does nothing but let us feel better about ourselves, instead of dealing with the problem. We’re like people in a filthy home, looking down the street at some neighbors with 50 cats, feline feces piled to the ceiling, and saying: “Glad we’re not them.”
Unlucky me, I am allergic to half truths and hypocrisy. The COVID cover story causes me physical pain. When the upside-down story is reversed on the far side of my eyeballs, it rearranges itself into the grotesquerie actually taking place, and the tension between it and the words we use to describe the masquerade of morality we’ve built up around ourselves is like lemon juice on a surgical papercut sliced into the soft crease on the concave side of a knuckle. It is a burning, searing irritation that won’t go away, except for the brief salve of the whispered truth.