I woke up this morning, Sept. 11, 2023, and turned on NPR’s Up First morning news podcast. I expected the podcast to cover the usual: war in Ukraine, Senate returns to negotiate the federal budget, upcoming Presidential election, etc. Instead, I heard the words “COVID outbreak” for the first time in what felt like years. Last week, I received a text from a close friend telling me I should get tested as he and his girlfriend had tested positive for COVID. Yesterday, my roommate asked me if I would go with him to get another booster shot for the COVID vaccine. This morning, my friend was late to breakfast because he was testing for COVID after being in close contact with someone who had tested positive.
Almost a year ago exactly I sat in my dorm writing an article for Buzzsaw titled “Normal Sucked, Actually” about how it was not only impossible for the world to return to the sense of “normal” we experienced before the pandemic, but also that people across the world had a responsibility to make the “new normal” exponentially better: to make it more than the political dumpster fire we have been living in over the past five years. In complete honesty, I thought that would be the last time I wrote about COVID. Call me naive if you’d like. I know there are many people who never stopped masking, who never considered the pandemic to be truly over regardless of what the CDC said, who experienced symptoms of long COVID. But I thought, for the most part, that COVID had leveled itself out, that it was no longer the massively destructive illness it once was.
Today, COVID cases have increased by 24% across the country, as reported by the CDC, but how do we know? When I contracted COVID-19 in early 2022, I made the call to the New York COVID response team and reported that my roommate and I had tested positive. Data was being collected fervently. The CDC and other medical data reporting organizations were clamoring for information, begging any and everybody who had tested positive to report it so that they could provide the public with accurate data. Now, those things don’t exist. If you get sick, you should test. If you test positive, tell the people you interacted with and quarantine for 5 days. That’s it. The CDC does not generate weekly COVID reports the way it used to. Ithaca College has closed down Boothroyd Hall, which functioned as quarantine dorms when in-person classes came back, and has stopped requiring students to be vaccinated.
COVID’s new variant Pirola has been shown to be infectious even for those of us who have received boosters. The vaccine may limit the severity but it will not limit transmissibility and as of May 2023 (the last time the federal government reported data on, fewer than half of children under the age of 11 have received even one dose of the COVID vaccine). Only 68% of children under the age of 17 have received the first dose of the vaccine, and significantly fewer have received the second dose or any booster.
So now what? Do we wait until the world returns to the state of emergency we experienced in 2020? Do we wait patiently until it is our turn to get sick possibly for the second or third time? What about those of us who are still suffering from symptoms of long COVID? How bad can this get if people keep ignoring it, underreporting data about positive cases and hospitalizations, refusing to reinstate masking policies or social distancing guidelines? So many people want to believe that COVID is just the new flu: get your vaccine often and you’ll be fine. If you do get it, it’s not that deep. You’ll get sick for a week and be back in school soon. I am one of those people. I want nothing more than to believe this is over. I know I am not alone in that. But whether or not that is possible remains to be seen.
Quincey Fireside is a sophomore education studies major who always keeps a pulse on what’s going on in the world.