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OP/ED: What Have We Learned in Our Year of the Plague?

Dear Dr. Steve,

We have now completed one Pandemic Year. Have we learned anything as a society?

Signed,

Unvaccinated

Dear UV,

It’s been a Simpsons year, really. The Simpson family has been on the living room couch for over 30 years, but Bart and Lisa are still in grade school. Endless yet static — that is our pandemic era.

This is the month of strange COVID anniversaries, a surreal form of nostalgia in which looking back 12 months seems comparable to digging up Viking artifacts. Group photographs are now displayed in museums beside butter churns and artificial leeches. (Look them up.)

We find ourselves asking questions about the strange Before Time that was 2019. For example: How did we tell who the assholes were before they started showing up in stores without masks, shouting about tyranny? There must have been some way to spot them. Truck nuts, perhaps.

It’s been a year since the Great Toilet Paper Panic. That was perhaps the first indication that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to offer up a series of impromptu public IQ tests with frequently dismal results.

Those tests have continued, right up until this week when a B.C. government phone line set up to make vaccination appointments for residents 90 and over was deluged with 1.7 million calls in the first three hours. Either B.C. has more nonagenarians than anyone realized, or more likely people took the opportunity to call up and report squirrels in the attic, ask if their DoorDash order is going to arrive sometime this month, or complain about how the Royal Family treated Meghan and Harry.

If the government is going to set up a phone line and warn them not to call, people are going to call. It’s like those little “Do Not Remove” tags on mattresses.

It may be unduly pessimistic to say that the pandemic has shown us in an unflattering light. In fact, most people have behaved admirably and responsibly. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that the pandemic has been a stress test that has revealed the cracks — or crackpots — in our society. There are plenty.

A recent online Research Co. survey found that 15 per cent of British Columbians do not consider the virus to be a threat. That may be a relative few, but when it includes one of your relatives it’s still awkward. And it’s a lot of people — more than enough to fill stadiums with juicy, delectable victims, conveniently laid out for the coronavirus like so many rashers of bacon at a cruise ship buffet.

For us, COVID-19 has served the same purpose Donald Trump served in the U.S. — it has shed revealing light on the true nature of the citizenry. Again, this has been somewhat encouraging for Canadians — we simply do not seem to exhibit the same levels of bat-shittery found south of the border. When combined with the mythic American self-image of rugged, maverick individualism, COVID-19 has proven to be a truly lethal co-morbidity.

Canada cannot exactly boast though. We have suffered over 22,000 COVID-19 deaths, a national tragedy that does not rank us as one of the more successful countries worldwide. But with over half a million deaths and counting, the U.S. has well over twice our per-capita death rate, undoubtably because of a president who made COVID denial a mark of political obedience. Who could have predicted that a deadly virus could become a partisan political issue? Science fiction never gets it quite right.

So to answer your question, UV, have we learned anything in our plague year? Dr. Steve would say we have learned plenty. Much of it has been good, some of it has been unbearably sad, some of it has been decidedly trivial. For instance, Dr. Steve has learned that toilet paper packages stacked four high make a useful hallway table. The Vancouver Canucks can still disappoint when you’re not there to watch in person. Also, it’s possible to eat back-of-the-fridge mayo with a best-before date of mid-2017 and survive.

But to be honest, Dr. Steve already knew that. As a bachelor, he was pandemic-ready long before his time. 

Republished courtesy The Tyee