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By Michelle Goldberg
On Saturday, several days after my son stopped testing positive for the coronavirus, I took him out for ramen and then to the movies. The theater was about half-full; it required masks but also served food and cocktails, which you could, obviously, unmask to consume. I wouldn’t have gone three weeks ago, when Omicron was at its height and my family hadn’t been infected yet. But now everyone in my household except me has had it — I’ve been protected by either dumb luck or my Moderna booster — and so, in my own life, the stakes of a positive test have gone down.
I’m probably not living that much differently from those who declare themselves #DoneWithCovid. The phrase was trending on Twitter on Monday morning, in response to a declaration by my former colleague Bari Weiss on “Real Time With Bill Maher.” “I’m done with Covid! I’m done!” she said. Weiss described making an all-out effort to avoid Covid early on. “And then we were told you get the vaccine. You get the vaccine and you get back to normal. And we haven’t gotten back to normal. And it’s ridiculous at this point,” she said. When she finished speaking, the audience cheered.
The desperate desire to get back to normal is understandable. What’s odd is seeing the absence of normality as a political betrayal instead of an epidemiological curveball. The reason things aren’t normal isn’t that power-mad public health officials went back on their promises. It’s because a new coronavirus variant emerged that overwhelmed hospitals and threw schools and many industries into chaos, and because not everyone has the luxury of being insouciant about infection.
Even with Omicron around, there’s a fair bit of normality available, especially if you don’t have kids. Here in New York City, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and theaters are generally open, though shows are closing at the last minute when cast members fall ill. You can have a party or go on vacation. What you can’t do is force other people, whose vulnerabilities might be much greater than your own, to agree with your risk assessments and join you in moving on while the pandemic still rages.
There are certainly Covid mitigation policies that I think are awful. It’s absurd that in some places, New York City included, kids who get Covid can’t return to school for 10 days, even if they test negative earlier. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people need only quarantine for five days.) I hate the fact that my kids still have to wear masks outdoors at recess and that my daughter eats lunch on the cafeteria floor for reasons of social distancing.
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