(Opinion)

Is COVID At Risk Of Being A Forgotten Pandemic?

FOMO culture is back in full force.

By Jennifer Wright
Shutterstock
A group of friends laugh and toast their wine glasses on a boat at sunset.

Americans spent 2020 talking about what we’d do “when COVID was over.” We spent a year making sourdough bread (an activity that was more fun in theory than in practice) while thinking about what it would be like to go to concerts. Or movies. Or to be able to leave the country once again. And now, it seems, the pandemic is over — if, again, more in theory than practice. People are getting out of the kitchen and onto the dance floor, and it seems pre-pandemic FOMO culture has returned in full force.

At least, according to billionaire Richard Branson who enthusiastically declared that "big parties are back” last month. The wedding industry is booming, owing to the number of parties that were pushed back a year. Travel agents have seen a surge in business, with the owner of one agency telling The New York Times that their business is now 35% higher than it was in 2019, and that 50% of the calls are from new clients. So many people are heading to Hawaii that the Maui Mayor asked airlines to “pause” incoming flights .

No one, it seems, wants to spend much time thinking about how the U.S. is still averaging 30,000 cases of COVID a day, largely in areas with low vaccination rates. To say the very least, it’s premature to say that this pandemic is even over. The Delta Variant is already forcing people to change protocol — in certain cities, masks are once again mandated indoors and international travel bans are being extended. And, in addition to not have fully tackled this pandemic, we’re certainly not prepared for another one.

But, that hasn’t stopped many people who have decided to embrace now like the roaring ‘20s and forget about it as much as possible.

A large group of young women have fun at a luncheon in Chicago in the 1920s. Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

This isn’t a new tendency, especially when it comes to Americans and pandemics. The Influenza outbreak of 1918 was considered, at least until COVID prompted a tremendous number of articles about it, to be “America’s Forgotten Pandemic.” That’s true in spite of the fact that it killed 675,000 Americans.

Today, we’re going to deal with people who claim that the entire business was a hoax all along. And if those people — and we all know some of them — couldn’t be kept at home when everything was closed, it’s going to be virtually impossible to keep them at home when they’re invited to a wedding. Or when Hawaii is beckoning.

Even those who were willing to stay home at the height of COVID might prove to have short memories. From dance crazes to dressing up we’re ready to pretend that the past year — and the 610,000 Americans who died from COVID — never happened. Why dwell, many people seem to wonder, when you can embrace hot girl summer? No wonder virtually every dating app’s traffic is surging.

Americans are great at remembering those we’ve lost in wars. Those lost to disease? Not so much. Perhaps that’s because acknowledging the magnitude of those dead from COVID would mean rethinking how we handle health care and other aspects of life in this country. If we’re going to address any of the changes that COVID would seem to necessitate, from paying workers a living wage, to providing better medical care, to accurately sharing expert information about vaccines, we’re going to have to admit the failures of the current system.

Much easier, really, to go to those big parties Richard Branson is describing, and just forget all about it.

But then, if we do that, well, keep those sourdough recipes handy for when this happens again.