Lately, I’ve been reading lots of predictions on the internet about the eventual end of the pandemic, about how it’ll first peak and then fade away. The way these observers see it, we’ve entered the pandemic endgame, a logical outcome of widespread immunity through vaccines or recovery, effective medication, and a less severe virus variant. First, it’ll get worse, then it’ll… just stop.
Last summer I had a taste of the end: We had entered Denmark by ferry and on our bikes, the border was entirely deserted and there were no restrictions when entering the country. Masks were no longer mandatory, and the only requirement was to be double vaccinated in order to enter restaurants, a requirement that promptly forced us to have dinner outside in the rain as we were awaiting our second shot.
After what had been more than a year of pandemic, the sudden absence of restrictions was weird—definitely welcome, but strange. You get used to all kinds of measures if they’re in place for long enough. For a few days, we entered closed spaces without masks and gradually let our guard down, until it was time to board the train to Germany where the masks went back up on the border.
It occurs to me now that this brief relief only concerned the visible signs of the pandemic: Like the eponymous iceberg, we were only seeing the most tangible effects of the pandemic gone; neither the disease nor the ideas it spawned had really ended.
The pandemic, as I’ve written here before, has slowly transformed from a public health crisis to a trust crisis, and I would predict the damage of the latter to linger. There are those who will forever remain in the grasp of conspiracy thinking, some out of ignorance, others out of spite. This pandemic is a cornerstone of their worldview now, one in which they feel everything is rigged and you can’t trust anyone.
Meanwhile, those of us who believe in facts will forever have to live with the knowledge that there’s a subset of people we live among that—in the face of a deadly pandemic—prefer to steadfastly cling to theories pedaled by Joe Rogan and strange internet sites, unwilling to act in the interest of others, and refusing to even bear the tiny discomfort of wearing a mask.