Pandemic at two years: Covid-19 news no longer dominates front pages

Remember “we are all in this together?” That’s what we were saying to each other two years ago this week. Media outlets were shifting into public service mode as the Covid-19 pandemic upended life in the United States. Broadcasters and health reporters were educating the country about terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve.” No one imagined that some pandemic-era interventions would still be in place two years later — no one, that is, except the public health experts who tried to warn us at the outset.

The “togetherness” sentiment lasted about a minute. Arguably it was never true at all. The pandemic exacerbated partisan divides. It accelerated all sorts of things. It changed everyone. Have you thought deeply about how it changed you?

Friday is a moment to reflect, for March 11, 2020 was the day that the Covid crisis became real for millions of Americans. The day started with the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic and ended with the NBA suspending its season, former President Trump addressing the nation and Tom Hanks telling the world he had tested positive. If you want to remember, Yahoo News and Wired have both produced oral histories of March 11.
I have a sneaking suspicion that many people don’t want to remember, don’t want to let Covid-19 occupy any brain space anymore. After all, the crisis is fading from view. Case counts in the US are falling below pre-Omicron levels. The CDC said Thursday that only 2% of Americans are now living in counties with high Covid-19 levels. This means the vast majority of Americans are living in communities where universal masking is no longer recommended.

This is huge news — but most Covid updates have fallen off front pages and homepages due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The relaxing of Covid-era measures and the return to “normal,” whatever that means, has happened so gradually and variably that everyone has experienced it differently. If March 11, 2020 was the “start” date, there will never be an equivalent “end” date.

As CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote Friday, “we appear to be standing on the edge of the endemic phase of this global health crisis. For many, that’s the moment when we hope we can get back to our regular lives.”
Still, the landscape “remains unsettled,” John Gramlich wrote for Pew last week, as “the staggering death toll of the virus continues to rise,” the economic environment belies easy answers, and “thorny new societal problems” bedevil us all.
While some people want to forget, others — like those with long Covid — don’t have that option.

So, to reflect means to make sense of what happened. The death and suffering and reordering of so many lives. The loss of trust in institutions. The gift of vaccination and the grift of anti-vax pundits. Here’s a hopeful note: When my nearly 5-year-old daughter was getting ready for bed on Thursday, what did she want to watch on YouTube? Videos about doctors helping people get vaccinated.

New podcast episode with two doctors

On this week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast episode, I dared to wonder, might this be the last episode of the show dedicated to the pandemic? With booster shots on the horizon and potential variants on the minds of doctors, maybe not, but I sought out two guests who helped explain Covid-19 when the pandemic first erupted. Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal joined me on CNN on March 8, 2020. Dr. James Hamblin joined me on March 15. So on this new podcast, we assessed the lessons learned since then — about crisis leadership, the decline of trust in info sources, and the potential end of the pandemic. Tune in via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite app.

SXSW kicks off on Friday

“Everyone has their own personal moment when the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic finally hit home,” Variety’s Andrew Barker wrote Thursday. For the entertainment business, he wrote, “nothing brought the gravity of the situation into such stark relief as seeing the city of Austin cancel the 2020 SXSW festival less than a week before it was scheduled to kick off… Perhaps that’s why, two years later, SXSW’s return to an in-person event this week feels particularly special.” Friday is the start of it all.

The best of us

Megan Thomas writes: “A surfer who rode his wave of grief with a sea of strangers. A couple whose road to marriage was paved by a pandemic quarantine that lasted more than 200 days. A woman who found an inspiring outlook after almost losing her life and her unborn child to Covid. A mother who got to know her son unlike ever before. And a musician who in dark times learned that creativity is a light that carries on. Starting Friday, CNN’s culture, enterprise and entertainment teams are presenting five stories about people who in the aftermath of a time like no other have been given the gift of clarity.”

The first story, by John Blake, is titled “She had a near-death experience because of Covid. But it wasn’t a glimpse of an afterlife that changed her.”

Further reading

— The very-big-picture story: “More countries are shifting toward a return to normal and learning to live with the virus.” (AP)
— “We have embarked on the newest less scary stage of the pandemic,” Joanne Kenen writes, so it should be “closing night for pandemic theater.” (Politico)
— Wajahat Ali’s cautionary note: “Mask and vaccine mandates are gone, but Covid is still here.” (Beast)
— Something to think about: The New York Times editorial board makes the case that “New York needs a Covid memorial.” (NYT)

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