COVID-19 endemecy

“I’m over COVID.” “It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” “We have to get back to normal.”
Except there is no “back to normal,” is there?
There is talk of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, becoming endemic, meaning that it will be a common enough virus that the world learns to manage. Whenever I hear people talk about the virus becoming endemic, it is with an air of resignation. It is understandable. We have all lost so much in this era. We all wish it could end, or that it had never begun. “Endemic,” however, does not mean “end.”
Yes, the vaccine saves lives, and I am glad that it exists and that I was able to get my three shots, but it’s not a video game power-up. It’s medicine. Statistically, I am twenty times more likely to survive a bout of COVID-19 than an unvaccinated person. I like those odds, but survival still looks different for different people. Being sick at all is miserable, and COVID can still be permanently debilitating.
We do not even know much about long COVID, lingering effects that remain long after people are otherwise free of disease. There are people—with and without vaccination—with lasting neurological damage who never regained their senses of smell and taste, people who suffered disabling blood clots and faced amputations. These recently disabled will never go back to normal, and will now have to live in a world that sees them as expendable, a world that says it’s good news that “The only ones dying anymore are ones with comorbidities,” pretending that does not describe a truly massive chunk of the population.
I am 22 years old. For my entire grade school career, I was told never to forget 9/11. It is a slogan. I saw videos of news footage from before I even had my second birthday. I cannot forget 9/11, but that is because I do not remember it in the first place. It was a world-changing tragedy, and all I know is the world after. I cannot get swept up in the national mourning like my elders because it is as far from me as anything else I can read in a history textbook.
What do we call it now when as many people are killed by the same thing in one day? Last week, we called it Wednesday and Thursday. There is no pomp and circumstance, no dramatic memorialization for the dead, no pithy sloganeering, only the waving of hands and talking about when this is all over. This is just what life is now, death and the vain hope for it to lose its sting.
It is difficult for me to reconcile these things, and more difficult to imagine how anyone can honestly believe that the end of the pandemic is anywhere in sight, even as Dr. Fauci’s raspy voice tries to assure us that the Omicron variant’s spike will flatten in a few weeks as he has been saying for a few weeks already. I also remember over a year ago when he said we should be back to normal by summer of last year. I remember when I thought it would be an extra week of Spring break to flatten the curve, when Trump said we were “rounding the turn”, and when Biden expected independence from the virus by Independence Day. Here we are in year three with 800,000 dead bodies.
I stopped believing in back to normal some time ago. This limbo we are in now where the rules are ever-changing and confusing, isolation guidelines cut in half to get people back to work, kids sent back to school with or without masks, vaccines suggested rather than properly mandated, is where we are doomed to stay. The same way I only know the world after 9/11, the children today will only know the world of the pandemic, even if we call it “endemic” instead, because no matter what word we use, it makes no difference to the dead, dying, and disabled.