Damn, y’all. Damn.
Last time I posted about the coronavirus, I wondered out loud if maybe it was over. I knew better, of course — even from deep inside my vaccinated bubble, I could hear the Delta variant hoofbeats fast approaching — but for a few months there it felt like life was almost normal. I wanted it to be normal so I happily stuck my head in the sand and pretended. It was glorious.
But now — [brushes sand out of hair] — the numbers are rising. Kids are getting sick. Masks are back.
I read the news reports. I discuss vaccine science. I talk with exhausted medical professionals and scared parents and public health nurses. And just the other day I placed an order for another box of medical masks and I wanted to cry.
It didn’t have to be this way.
I don’t know what to do with my anger.
I’m frustrated about the resurgence, and that we need to wear masks again, and that our daily activities are, once again, in jeopardy, but mostly? Mostly I’m angry at the unvaccinated people who are so stubbornly committed to their “freedoms” that they are willing to sacrifice the well-being of those around them.
Yes, I realize we’re supposed to be respectful and open-minded, tiptoeing oh-so gingerly so as not to destroy relationships with those who think “differently,” but any more these days I just can’t even. It’s gone too far. I’m done with civility. (Not really, but that’s how I feel.)
When I hear about unvaccinated people who end up in the hospital and then express dismay at the intensity of their illness and frustration with their inferior medical care, I want to scream, And the surprise in that is what? Did you think this was a JOKE? You do realize there is a pandemic going on, right? Hospitals are short staffed and the employees overworked precisely BECAUSE people like you haven’t had the decency to take basic precautions. Of COURSE your care wasn’t great! Did you honestly think it would be otherwise?
The way they act — stunned, almost, or affronted — I get the distinct impression that they’ve been living in an alternate universe and have suddenly bumped up against reality. How could they possibly have missed the memo? I wonder. Could it be that they aren’t savvy with their news sources?
It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
And as for the antivaxxers who play victim — Poor me! they blare on their Facebook statuses, I’m being bullied for my choices! — do not even get me started.
Of course no one should ever be cruel to another person — I stand behind that — but when personal choices inflict pain on others, it’s only natural to get angry. I mean, isn’t vaccination refusal a gross breach of the basic social contract, that implicit agreement that requires all of us to work together for the common good?
Break the contract, people are gonna get pissed, and then do something about it (I hope).
Which leads me to my next point: when, oh when, are the unvaccinated gonna have to start taking responsibility for their actions?
One of my local public health friends who is fed up with the unvaccinated bullshit says we should just stop treating the covid-positive unvaccinated people. That’s never going to happen, of course — it’d be unethical, and besides, medical professionals have taken an oath — but I get her point: half of us are bending over backward to stop the spread while the other half is just waltzing around, thumbing their noses at our efforts and wrecking havoc, and then we all come limping along behind them, meekly mopping up their mess.
When is enough enough?
In a recent NPR report (if you’ve got an extra seven minutes, give it a listen), a medical ethicist argued that it’s time to start making the unvaccinated people liable for any harms. He explains that he’s not being vindictive or punitive. Just, people who live a high-risk lifestyle have higher insurance premiums, and if a drunk driver kills someone, there are consequences; likewise, unvaccinated people who are similarly endangering the health of others need to be held accountable.
Some places, like Puerto Rico, are being aggressively proactive. There, in order to be treated at the health clinics, patients have to produce either their vaccination record or a negative Covid test, and in order for unvaccinated employees to continue working, they have to provide proof of religious exemption and produce a negative covid test each Monday, and they have to pay the 80 dollars for each test out of pocket.
I can’t wait for us to catch up.
The other night, I dreamed I was in a fancy hotel. Through the big glass window, I watched as a huge tsunami wave crashed against the hotel, swallowing all the screaming people on the beach. At first the hotel held up; we were safe! But then people started finding their way in: dirty people, poor people, angry people. Our fancy hotel turned soppy-wet and rapidly fell apart. We were no longer safe.
I have close friends and family who are unvaccinated. I love these people, deeply, and yet I am angry at them. The disconnect is disorienting.
If anger is a secondary emotion, then what’s my primary emotion?
Helplessness, I think. A loss of control. Despair and sadness. Fear.
I wonder if my anger at unvaccinated people is, perhaps, a scapegoat for a greater, generalized sense of powerlessness? Afghanistan, conspiracy theories, the climate crisis, Haiti, my pulled hamstring, impending old age: there are so many things I can’t control.
But Covid, now. Covid, we could have controlled, should have controlled. That was in our power. And yet we failed and so here we are, being swept up in yet another tidal wave of destruction.
Cue the rage.
But listen: loving someone doesn’t mean you can’t be angry at them. In fact, I believe it’s actually a sign of respect to get angry at those we love because it means we care enough to be invested. And it’s a gift for us to know when we make others angry! My mother used to say it was important for me and my brothers to know that our behavior had an impact on other people — her. (And boy, did she ever let us know it!)
Confession: despite what I just said, I’m not directly confronting my friends and family, partly because I’m not sure it’d be constructive and partly — maybe mostly — because I’m chicken.
So what do I do? I write. Putting my feelings into words helps me think. My brain is so chaotic (last night my husband compared it to a filing cabinet knocked over in a windstorm) that it takes considerable time, and many many pages of words, to process my jumbled thoughts.
And that’s it, folks. This is all I’ve got. I don’t have the answers, obviously, and maybe there is no answer.
Perhaps that’s okay.
For those who want to dig deeper…
*What we now know about how to fight the Delta variant of covid (Tampa Bay)
*What to know about breakthrough infections and the delta variant (New York Times)
*Why Covid-19 vaccines offer better protection than infection (John Hopkins)
*Angry at the unvaccinated? Here’s a better way (CNN)
*Covid-19 in Virginia: Cases by Vaccination Status. (Virginia Department of Health)
P.S. Do I need to buy toilet paper yet?