You guys! I’m so sorry I’ve been such a sluggard here. I don’t know where last week went. But let’s soldier on, anyway:
I generally dislike anniversary journalism, but Monday is March 6, which sticks in my head as the beginning of Covid in Michigan. The first cases wouldn’t be diagnosed and announced until the 10th, the day of the primary election, but on the 6th the chill was definitely in the air. Kate and the girls had a show at Third Man Records, the beginning of what they hoped would be a victory march down to SXSW in Austin, but by then, SXSW had been cancelled. “Just go anyway,” I told them. “People will be getting together and playing anyway, with or without the festival’s backing.” They were afraid no one would come out to Third Man that night, but once the Bernie Sanders rally at the nearby TCF Center concluded, they had no problem filling the place. I noticed one guy standing way off by himself in a mask. Huh, I thought.
Within days, the governor would start issuing shutdown orders, and within weeks, those orders would be the genesis of a new right-wing movement here, which led directly to…well, a lot of things. The utter delamination of the state GOP, although pockets of strength remain. The shenanigans in Ottawa County got their start then. There are others.
I wrote a story for Deadline on the one-year anniversary, presented oral history-style, which means it’s too long, but oh well. I’ve reread it around this time the last couple of years, because I don’t want to forget anything about the early days – the fear, the panic, the way people one block away would cross the street when they saw me coming, walking the dog. (I, on the other hand, would only step off to the curb line. That was my comfort zone.) The way some people wiped down their groceries. The homemade masks, the Karen tantrums in grocery stores, the toilet paper hoarding, all of it.
The New York Times magazine had a Covid oral-history story last week, and one quote in it hit me between the eyes:
In the final set of interviews, most of which were conducted last summer, some people said the pandemic was over while others insisted it absolutely was not. Or that it was “sort of queasily over.” Or that it had been over, but then “it stopped being over.” “I think we all, as a society, became better,” one nursing-home aide concluded. A nonprofit worker confessed, “I used to think that we lived in a society, and I thought that people would come together to take care of one another, and I don’t think that anymore.”
That last quote, especially, echoed some of the way people talked in my story. Here’s a state legislator who lost her sister early on:
After Isaac (Robinson, a member of the Michigan Legislature) passed, (the legislature) didn’t go back immediately. We had some votes, mainly to extend the Governor’s executive order powers, and Democrats wanted a joint resolution allowing virtual voting. (The Republicans) didn’t take the resolution up. I was of the mindset that the Republicans weren’t starting from a place of “how do we deal with this crisis,” but “how do we jam the governor.”
And the funeral director:
It hit my community so hard, and we were screaming and it’s like nobody heard us. I’d hear these people saying, “We have to open up. I can’t go to my restaurant anymore,” and I’m having trouble getting gloves because of the hoarding. Without gloves, I’m out of business.
That’s kind of where I am, three years later. To be sure, the ER doctor and epidemiologist said she came away with optimism about the power of people working together, but she was mainly talking about her medical colleagues. I’m no longer confident, or even optimistic, that faced with an existential public-health threat, people will do the right thing. Here’s something I hear a lot: “I am just so over Covid.” Aren’t we all, but it’s still with us. To be sure, my masking is less common than it was. I went to a densely packed show a while back, mask-free. I eat in restaurants again. But I mask on planes, and I still watch case numbers. If they go up, I mask up. I’m still a No-vid, but I don’t worry that I could die, if I got it. I’ve been vaccinated five times; if I get it, I expect mild symptoms and long Covid to be far less likely. But I don’t want to get it in the first place.
My faith in my fellow citizens, though? That’s in the toilet. Maybe that’s why I’m enjoying “The Last of Us,” the post-zombie apocalypse show on HBO now. It posits a future where the thing you most have to fear is not the zombies, but your fellow healthy American. Everyone is armed to the teeth; busting a cap in someone’s ass is considered totally acceptable to protect one’s food or vehicle or whatever. The government is a dominating fascist force. There’s a thriving black market in the human settlements that remain. That, I regret to say, is what I expect the next time a pandemic hits.
Not that I wish to start the week on a bummer note! After a wet, sloppy snowstorm Friday night, we’ve had two days of snow-melting weather, and spring is most definitely on its way.