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General News    H3'ed 6/14/22

Tomgram: Nina Burleigh, Living Through the Best and (Especially) Worst of Times

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It never seems to end, does it? Three-plus years after it first landed on our shores, Covid-19 is still killing more than 300 Americans daily, while cases are rising again nationally (though sinking in the Northeast and Midwest). And " of course! " two new subvariants were recently detected in South Africa, capable of evading the immunity wall created by vaccines over the past two years (though vaxxing will still make you less susceptible to hospitalization and death).

We've all had to live through this in one way or another for what seems like eons now. I'm a careful and carefully masked old man who " despite some members of my family getting Covid " has avoided the disease so far. I was, however, exposed to it relatively recently and had to isolate myself for days. Still, in New York City where I live, I can sense that so many of us have simply thrown up our hands and gone back to something closer to pre-pandemic life. For each of us, at the very least, the Covid-19 experience has been a drama of the first order in which more than a million Americans " the worst record for a rich country " died and so many others, including two aging friends of mine, have ended up with devastating "long Covid."

Worse yet, Covid has been only one of our pandemics in these years. Can there be any question that this country has an ongoing political fever, too? Call it Long Trump, if you will. And if you doubt it, visit Mar-a-Lago before the next climate-strengthened hurricane hits or have a word with Ron DeSantis, or Dr. Oz, or the Proud Boys recently indicted for "sedition" over their actions connected with the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

With all this in mind, let me offer one person's account of our never-ending Covid moment, up close and personal. TomDispatch regular Nina Burleigh wrote the superb book Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic. Now, she takes you behind the scenes of her own life to offer one of so many millions of Covid-19 dramas that played out in these years, something that, in one fashion or another, all of us have had no choice but to go through and, of course, it hasn't ended yet. Tom

My Pandemic in Three Acts
Dealing with the Disease that Never Seems to Leave Town


On New Years' Eve 2019, Americans celebrated the advent of the roaring '20s with fireworks and champagne, amid ominous news alerts from China. Surely that virus would stay on the other side of the planet. I cringe at how entitled we felt then. Covid-19 has now wiped out more than a million of us (by far the worst record on Earth when it comes to wealthy countries). Up to a third of all survivors suffer the sometimes disabling effects of long Covid, with implications for society that will outlast the pandemic " if it ever ends.

I'd like to believe we've learned a lesson about our species-wide vulnerability, our planetary connectedness. But in fact, we seem more atomized and arrogant than ever. The pandemic arrived just as technology was driving us collectively mad and pushing us further into our black mirrors.

Researching and writing a book about the science and politics of the pandemic, I lived with it up close and personal. But my book's last page wasn't the conclusion for me " or anyone else. Here I offer my personal Covid tale, organized in three acts only because my storyteller instinct demands a beginning, middle, and end" when in truth, there is no end, not yet anyway.

Act 1: The Ides of March

My "last normal thing" (as such activities would come to be called) before the first pandemic lockdown was to attend a birthday party in New York City in March 2020. Covid-19 was already causing moderate to severe panic among our crowd, but no one we knew was dying" yet. We didn't know enough to wear masks. There were no tests yet. The hostess assured us all that there would be plenty of hand sanitizer around. Some invitees didn't come, but a surprisingly large number of us showed up. A few already had coughs. Others would end up sick with fevers within weeks " by which time the idea of standing within breathing space of anyone but immediate family members already seemed unthinkable.

A few days after the last normal thing, our kids were sent home from college and high school. Survivalism kicked in hard. My husband, the kids, and I left the city the very next day for upstate New York, holding our breath in the elevator on the trip down to the car. We abandoned a neighborhood that, within weeks, would turn out to be among the most ravaged in the United States.

Up in the country, we dispatched one person to Walmart every few weeks to prepper-shop. We made sure to take off our shoes and strip down from our outerwear at the door because who knew if the virus could come in on your clothes? We washed down everything " cans, cardboard oatmeal cylinders, cereal boxes, packages of beef and chicken " in a kitchen-sink bath of bleach, detergent, and hot water.

Word got around that there was no yeast on the local store shelves. That was alarming even though we'd never bothered to look for it before. So we ordered what seemed to be the last pound of Amazon's stock, along with a 50-pound bag of flour. Then we had to figure out how to store it. My husband learned to bake bread and proceeded to turn the weekly making of it into the equivalent of a religious ritual, a talisman.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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