Coronapanic: When does country get “back to normal”?

A month ago a friend bet me that, due to vaccines, Maskachusetts would be “back to normal” today and that the governor repealing his mask order (from among at least 66 total orders issued under a state of emergency) would be the determinant of normality and who would buy lunch at his favorite COVID-unsafe indoor Thai restaurant.

In taking the “this is normal going forward” side of the bet, I pointed out that a mutual friend had said the same thing back in March, i.e., that the vaccine would get us back to normal soon. He’d been hiding in his suburban bunker for over a year when he said that. I said “You believed them when they told you it would be 14 days to flatten the curve and then you could go back to normal. You believed them when they said if people would wear masks for a couple of months that would end coronaplague. You believed them when they told you we just needed one more shutdown. Now you believe them when they say that the restrictions will end once everyone is vaccinated?”

My primary evidence against residents of Massachusetts wanting to be unlocked is observing rich suburbanites, i.e., the folks who have enough money to support politicians with donations. They’d been fully vaccinated weeks earlier and were still wearing masks when walking outside at least 100′ from the nearest human. When queried (at a masked distance) they expressed a personal fear of contracting COVID-19, since they’d heard that the vaccines are not 100 percent effective. I ran into a (masked) mom who was walking her dog. She’s been a Shutdown and Mask Karen from Day 1, but complained that her son, enrolled in an elite private high school, wasn’t allowed to participate in crew because he is also in drama and the drama teacher did not want him exposed to additional COVID risk.

Maybe young people living in crummy apartments in poor neighborhoods wanted to be unlocked, I argued, but they have no political voice.

Meanwhile, the local economy is plainly very different from what it was. A lot of small businesses remain closed (as of October 2020, 33% of Boston’s small businesses were shut, 42% of those in hospitality; overall number of people employed is down about 15 percent in Boston versus 0 percent in Miami and actually up in Tampa (click on “Metros”)). The ones that are left are usually too short-handed to serve customers in what we would have considered a proper manner. There are no Ubers, something I also noticed in other cities, but only higher-cost Uber XLs. When queried, an Uber XL driver said “a lot of people can make more on unemployment so it isn’t worth driving regular Uber anymore.”

Most of the “experts” quoted by the New York Times and similar have been spectacularly wrong regarding COVID-19. But we make no claim to expert credentials and it is fun to try prophecy. What are folks’ predictions regarding state shutdown and mask levels over the coming 12 months?

I’ll go first: My best guess regarding the future is that it looks like the past. So the states that are masked and shut now will be masked and shut going forward while the states that are unmasked and open now will be unmasked and open going forward. Due to the fact that coronavirus is seasonal (and a med school professor friend reminds me that we don’t know why flu is seasonal so we probably won’t figure out why COVID comes in waves either), I expect variations around this theme. Summer 2020 was a quiet time here in MA (see NYT chart below) so I would expect the virus and restrictions to relax in summer 2021 and both to come back in the late fall.

Masks are advertised as a cost-free intervention, so I’m thinking that Maskachusetts, for example, might have a “mask mandate” (it’s been a year and the Legislature cannot get organized to pass a “law”?) through at least 2022, though the previous statewide unconditional outdoor mask requirement has just recently been relaxed to “when you’re not able to maintain a 6′ distance”. Masks will be sold as a cost-free way to prevent the virus from returning. When the virus actually does return, the Mask Believers will say that the masks delayed the return and/or reduced the peak of the return.

(From a physician friend: “The flu is gone because everyone is sticking to the rules but COVID is rising because no one is sticking to the rules.”)

Let’s put our predictions here and check them at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months from now! Bragging rights for whoever gets closest!

Update: At a Bat Mitzvah today (about 15 people in a room designed to hold 100+), a photographer wanted to get a picture of four 13-year-old healthy slender girls. They refused to take off their masks for an indoor photo. He managed to get them outside. They refused to take off their masks for an outdoor photo.


  • A Silicon Valley friend: “I am so Woke that I want to change my pronouns to Karen/Karen.”

24 thoughts on “Coronapanic: When does country get “back to normal”?

  1. I would take Phil’s side of this bet since the best naïve prediction of the future is to assume the status quo. As an aside, the esteemed Dr. Biden has come in for a lot of ribbing on this blog but in fact she used her medical skills the other day to help her befuddled husband mask up — notwithstanding that he had long ago been vaccinated. A fact he perhaps forgot.

  2. My prediction is the same a a year ago. In a year everyone will say that what happened just proves what they were saying all along. So my response falls in line with that.
    It occurred to me that maybe we could end the madness sooner if a famous photographer hint hint would get some emotionally jarring photos of wildlife dealing with the billion or so disposed of masks each day. I see them everywhere so they can’t be that Green.

  3. > My primary evidence against residents of Massachusetts wanting to be unlocked is observing rich suburbanites, i.e., the folks who have enough money to support politicians with donations….because he is also in drama and the drama teacher did not want him exposed to additional COVID risk…Maybe young people living in crummy apartments in poor neighborhoods wanted to be unlocked, I argued, but they have no political voice.

    I think this is true, but you have to understand: the people who live in wealthy suburbs and went to good schools have political power because that’s just the way things should be! The poorer and more uneducated schlubs out there are victims of right-wing misinformation, or are too uneducated to make their own informed decisions, so someone else has to do it for them. Case in point: I was in a doctor’s office the other day having a conversation with an older lady, about 75, about masks and the mandates in Massachusetts. In our conversation, she told me a lot about her life history and it was clear to me that she was (at least in socioeconomic terms) a Deplorable. She said: “I hate the mask orders. I think it’s crazy for people to wear these masks outside, and most of the time it’s crazy inside, especially in your own house or in a business where you only see a few people. Maybe in malls or stores it’s OK, but the rest of the time I can’t stand it and I think it’s crazy.” Meanwhile, the television in the waiting room was tuned to the View, wherein Whoopi and Joy and their pals took turns dumping on Tucker Carlson for saying just about the same thing. I said: “But listen to the View! What do you think of them?”
    “I can’t stand Joy Behar. I wish we could change the channel.”

    This was a 70-75 year old woman who has lived a long life and seen a great many things, and who I’m pretty sure was waiting with me because she has a serious comorbidity. She couldn’t stand the masks outdoors, but she is effectively a ward of her betters in the educated class.

  4. It’s impossible to predict. I think the “more restrictive” vs. “less restrictive” dichotomy is real, but the problem is that we still don’t know what the virus mutations are going to do to the effectiveness of the vaccines we’ve administered. I expect SARS-CoV2 to become an endemic virus, which will be with us forever. If it doesn’t mutate into some much more deadly form, we’ll have to keep having booster shots in perpetuity, and the less-restrictive areas of the country will keep going as they have, etc.

    On the other hand, if the virus mutates into a much more infectious and deadly form, all bets are off and we’re back to March of 2020, except worse.

    Does anyone seriously think we can get this virus to make itself disappear with herd immunity anymore? I haven’t seen anyone who says that. And the mutants will travel from wherever they are to wherever we are! So the vaccines will eventually be subverted.

    I weight in favor of worst-case scenarios, because our predictive and curative powers are terribly limited. You’re absolutely correct that mask aficianados will continue to tout their benefits – it’s the only thing they have. Pieces of paper hung on people’s faces, full of sputum. It matters not, but that’s all they got.

    The virus is going to do what Jeff Goldblum said and “find a way” to keep us screwed. It’s a CORONAVIRUS!

    What would stop this? Some brilliant guy at Biogen comes up with the cure for the common cold. Which isn’t going to happen.

    • Also, in my mind, this isn’t a public health problem. It’s a climate change problem. Our government has found the best and most effective way imaginable to restrict not just freedom but economic growth. They’re NEVER going to give that up. China wins.

    • And just for the record, I think we should continue to develop vaccines against it, but we should also open everything up as quickly as possible and learn to accept the fact that we cannot control the virus. If we want to live, we have a choice: we can try to keep imagining that we control it, we can accept the permanent loss of our freedoms, or we can bite the bullet and realize that we really cannot control the virus and just have to live with it. And people are going to die as a result of that. There’s no way around it.

  5. Sometime by June everything will open up and we’ll be worrying about something else. Red states are opening up. The blue states cannot afford to lose anymore people.

    The next big thing is going to be Black Trans Lives Matter.

    • Mememe: Under the Biden/Harris administration, don’t cities and states get paid in accordance with how much money they’re losing from COVID-19? The government workers in those cities and states will stay. Folks on welfare in those cities and states will stay (too hard to get into means-tested public housing (long waiting lists) elsewhere). If people who work in private sector jobs move and therefore are no longer paying taxes, doesn’t the federal government simply cover whatever they would have paid?

    • Stimulus payments prolong the agony and hide the rot of the real economy. The corpse is starting to stink. A lot of it is weather related. The weather is turning beautiful. People are starting to get out. A lot of people want this to be over. Since the whole crisis was psychological in nature to begin with, the ultimate and necessary factor in ending the crisis is a generalized desire to end the crisis. Pockets of sanity are cautiously popping up their heads and becoming more stable. Sanity spreads just as surely as insanity.

      We’re all a little broken after the last year, but we’ll get better. The corona-panic had benign as well as malignant effects, just like the corona-virus. Coronapanic will always be with us, just as it already was, we just did not have a name for it. It is characterized by politicized medicine and the atrophy of individual liberty in the general population. Medicine is no longer something you choose for yourself to make yourself healthier, but something chosen for you for the general good. Medicine has become a catch-all phrase to address all the ills of society — racism is a pressing medical issue. I think this nasty trend is going to butt up against the very sensible “my body, my choice” and I expect liberty to prevail, though there will be inevitable struggle as we tell the experts and doctors to stop running our lives. Justina Pelletier and her family met the hard end of the medical tyranny we have all endured this last year way back in 2013.

      I fear I have descended into polemic. My gut tells me that people are ready to party again.

  6. If you have to ask, you can’t take off the mask. Some of us in MA don’t wear them, not much happens. Occasionally you have to kindly say no thank you to a store employee when offered a mask. Which is funny if it is such a super spreading virus wouldn’t accepting a mask handled by another person be a huge risk?
    Taking the V will do nothing for your freedom. You want freedom you are going to have to claim it for yourself.
    V advocates are getting hilarious they have turned into that guy that just ate the worst tasting thing in his life and is now insisting you try it. A big no thanks to that.
    PS 99% of 2021 of V deaths have been from the covid shot. Just say no.

  7. Did “war on terrarium” end? Did security harassments at airports end? No and no. So don’t expect mask and vaccination requirement to end. If nothing, expect to see more of it. Our government just found a sweet spot in its citizens to control us. Why give it up?

  8. I was already wrong once. I predicted it would end shortly after Trump was gone. Oh well.

    Now I predict it will dribble away in pathetic fashion over years just like the 9/11 talk did. At some point, maybe 6 years from now, some prominent politician will bring up Covid-19 and try to score points from it, and will look like an ass. Guiliani did this in the 2008 primaries with 9/11.

    I hope I’m wrong. I hope the sheep get a shearing, but they won’t.

    A negative possibility is that the vaccinated will hit about 70 percent and stall, and then be perfectly comfortable curtailing–in serious form–the civil liberties of the unvaxxed. They will not give up this privilege easily, if it becomes a privilege.

  9. My prediction is things will be back to “normal” the second you land in your new Florida home. Doubtful places like Massachusetts or California will be back to normal in at least 2 years. Case in point out here in California they are going to extend the eviction moratorium until Jan 2022.

    • Toucan Sam: You’re breaking my heart on the eviction moratorium. We’re planning to start renting early August in Abacoa/Jupiter. If only we could rent right now, pay for one month, and then stay there forever (the “California plan”) without paying any more rent!

  10. The girls who would not take off their masks outside for a photo may have been afraid that the photo leaks to their “social” media.

    Counterrevolutionary behavior in public affects one’s social credit score and can ultimately lead to being ostracized and not being able to get a job 10 years later.

    • Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.” Looks like freedom extinction in Massachusetts is a long done deal. Kids afraid to show their their breathing is constricted. Just send them to a work camp already.

  11. In Israel, new cases per day nationwide is below 100, and things are largely back to normal.

    The same thing will happen soon in other countries with strong vaccination programs.

  12. My bet on the virus is that infection rates will drop 90-95% by July 4th, as the US nears herd immunity. But the virus never truly goes away and could produce fatality rates rivaling influenza during the winter, unless the vaccines are improved to deal with variants.

    My political bet is red states end mask mandates by Memorial Day, but blue states keep mask mandates permanently. Blue leaner states may have seasonal mask mandates for a few months every winter.

    The evidence for this is that the mask has become an authoritarian tribal symbol. If you fail to signal proper tribal loyalties, you run the risk of ostracization or cancellation.

    Overheard of the Week:

    Women in their mid-twenties are walking down 14th street shortly after the CDC released updated mask guidelines:

    “I guess I’m vaccinated so I don’t have to wear a mask outside but … I really don’t want people to think I’m a Republican.”

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