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THE VIEW FROM HERE

Hindsight still blurry when it comes to virus

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I’m scheduled to get my second COVID-19 shot Friday, meaning I’ll be fully vaccinated in a couple of weeks.

The pandemic, for me, is almost over, and I’m incredibly grateful to the brilliant men and women who developed these safe and effective vaccines. But this doesn’t feel like victory.

Until March of last year, Americans saw pandemics as something that happens every few years in Africa or Asia. We were confident that our modern health care system would protect us. The notion of more than 562,000 U.S. deaths, and still growing every day, was inconceivable then.

We’ve been living with the mounting death toll for more than a year now, but are no closer to having a unified strategy to defeat the virus now than we were at the start. Even with the benefit of hindsight, there’s no agreement as to what we would have done differently if we had the chance.

That’s understandable, given the differing impact the pandemic has had on people’s lives. The virus hit right as I was settling into retirement. It was easy for me to urge a more cautious approach because those business closures didn’t hurt me financially. Other people had different circumstances.

Beyond that, there is the apparent random nature of the virus. Those urging more restrictions like to point to New Zealand as the model for how it should have been done. An early shutdown strictly enforced has allowed them to return to normal life.

But how do they explain Texas? Cases have gone down in the Lone Star State in the weeks since Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted all restrictions there. I still think that was a bad idea, but the only way I can be proven right is for more people to get sick. So I hope I’m wrong.

Becoming fully vaccinated will allow me to more freely interact with others, but we will still be living in a pandemic until enough people get vaccinated to stop the spread. 

For the next couple of months, vaccine supply will be the primary factor limiting how many people can get the shot each day. But by the end of spring, the primary limiting factor will be fear of the unknown and distrust of the government.

Which will lead to the next big argument. We can’t force people to take a vaccination against their will, but is it reasonable to restrict their access to travel and public places if they refuse?

Even after we gain control of the virus here, ultimate victory will not come until we gain control of it everywhere. And, that would still appear to be years away.

I have no doubt that for the rest of my lifetime, and likely far beyond that, those of us who lived through the pandemic will engage in heated arguments about what should have been done and who is to blame. We’ve all staked out our positions, and the talking points on both sides are already well rehearsed.

That’s assuming, of course, that we don’t have another pandemic before we’re done arguing about this one.

My hope is that those with more knowledge and responsibility are learning from past mistakes and better preparing for the next health crisis. My fear is that only half the country will listen to them.

But that’s for tomorrow. For today, there is a small, personal victory to be celebrated.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel