It’s over. The Biden administration ended the National State of Emergency for coronavirus last week, just over three years after the Trump administration put it into effect. As arbitrary as this conclusion was, at least it was something, an ending, a signal that the “new normal” is over and things are back to how they were before March 2020. Anecdotally, this is true: fringes cases excepted on all sides, masks are worn only when you’re sick, or really don’t want to get sick, or can’t get sick, and it just seems like we’ve taken the same sensible attitude towards colds, flus, and viruses that most of Asia has for decades. Then again, this could all be in my head, and everyone I see in the grocery store with an N95 has a shot immune system or the habit hasn’t left them. Whatever—like I’ve written many times over the past three years, all I wanted was a heads up when to wear a mask, and when not to.
Biden ending the National State of Emergency went largely unnoticed and unheralded, not only because the story was buried, but because the pandemic hasn’t ended, or at the very least, coronavirus will be with us for the rest of our lives. Okay, not into that, but compared to the bubonic spring of 2020, when hundreds in Manhattan were intubated and amputated, this is an acceptable state of affairs. I’ve had coronavirus twice: Omicron on Christmas 2021, and just a couple of months ago during the first week of February. No fun, sort of a drag, but I wasn’t that sick—my heart and my muscles and my liver and my lungs probably resemble those of a 90-year-old Chinese chain-smoker as a result, but so what? C’est la fucking vie!
All I wanted was a line, a point, a barrier crossed where we could assess what happened to us in the first three years of this decade. Coronavirus has been a taboo topic ever since people got vaccinated and started going back to work, bars, concerts, movies, restaurants—and I don’t mean anti-vaxxers or anything related to Trump. As insane and irresponsible as he got during those daily coronavirus press briefings, at least someone was giving the world updates. Nonsensical? Dangerous? Wrong on every level? Perhaps, but compared to the opaque Biden administration, Trump and Fauci’s whiplash handling was far more comforting and stabilizing. Coronavirus under Biden made me feel insane: information regarding the virus’ origins, its lethality, and how it spreads that was suppressed during Trump’s term has been soft-rolled out to no acclaim or controversy. Phrases that would get you excommunicated and hissed at—“lab leak,” “gain of function,” “does not prevent transmission”—are now accepted, and to excoriate someone for being un-vaccinated just doesn’t make sense anymore: if the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission, who are they putting at risk but themselves?
I was vaccinated, but never got boosters, because I was in my late-20s when all of this started, and I don’t want to die of a heart attack in eight years. The knee-jerk rush to dismiss connections between “myocarditis” and the vaccine, or the virus, were alarming, only because it was obvious an enormous amount of people were willfully suppressing questioning and information. Their intent is irrelevant, and their behavior as a crowd was depressing and even scary at times, knowing that this mob fervor has been with us for thousands of years. The loosening of etiquette and decorum around the virus slowly shifted too, without any formal announcements: stand six feet apart? Wear your mask properly? Don’t gather in large groups inside? This all shifted so gradually in 2022 that it once again felt like decree by crowd, and absent any announcement from the government, people continued to cautiously move and change their behavior like sheep.
Now we’re like veal, impossibly tender and soft and waiting to be devoured. This is the last time I’ll write about the coronavirus pandemic as a current event, because the National State of Emergency in the United States is over. This is something that will affect the rest of our lives, but now, it’s history, even if the pandemic itself continues. It lasted about as long as I thought it would: three years, a little less than World War II, but a few years still, no “Two Weeks to Stop the Spread.” I also fondly remember Fauci’s impromptu advice at one of those Trump press briefings: “Rawdogging as many strangers as possible is the best natural defense against the coronavirus.”
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith