What a Long, Strange Odyssey This Has Been …

Is the pandemic really over? Maybe. Maybe not. But we can do a lot better next time.

By Dennis Boone

Well, well: The declaration finally came last month, when President Biden acknowledged during a televised interview that “the pandemic is over.”

I have to salute his best efforts to try and catch up, but I could have told him that … oh, about a year ago. And it’s not because I have access to super-secret CDC data sets, state health-department metrics, or insider knowledge from medical providers.

Nope, I’ve got the Odyssey Social Health Indicator at my disposal.

Haven’t heard of it, you say? Not surprising—this particular determinant of societal health is known only to yours truly and the three teens I’ve chauffeured through middle school and high school since 2018. That’s when I acquired my rolling pride and joy, a one-owner Honda minivan (maroon) with 189,000 miles on it, for the princely sum of $3,200, sales tax included. (Try to find a deal like that today!)

Being a Dad, and prone to Dadisms, I immediately began taking note of other Odysseys on the road, declaring their presence with: “There goes a good-looking Honda Odyssey.” Dad genetics compelled me to repeat it with sufficient frequency, eliciting the Teenism “Daaaa-uuud, please!” from my young passengers. It became a point of pride to see how far I could push that aggravation button. Payback, don’t you know, for the condition of their bedrooms and the nightly WWF smackdowns over who loads the dishwasher.

The unanticipated result of my observational study? I became much more aware of traffic flow around me. So I’m a better driver. But it also gave me a sense of how active the Odyssey-driving share of the public was both pre-pandemic and post. In 2019, the rule of thumb was one Odyssey would pass by for every mile driven. Typically, seven or eight would be seen on the 7 mile drive from Baja Brookside to Downtown each morning.

Then came March 2020 and . . . nothing. They simply vanished from the road as schools closed and companies shuttered their doors. It was the Odyssey Rapture. 

Fast-forward 18 months. By the start of the 2021-22 school year, the Odyssey counts come back, and pretty quickly. So they hit pre-pandemic levels more than a year ago, which is why I knew the president’s perception lagged the road reality by juuuuust a bit.

Now that traffic flows are being restored—odd in itself, since so many large office spaces remain empty with remote work—there are a few questions that should be asked if we’re going to declare this pandemic “over” and be better prepared to deal with the next one. Among them:

• With this past summer’s rolling 7-day average COVID-fatality count more than twice the 2021 lows, where has the collective fear gone in the populace? You still see the occasional mask-wearer out there, which is certainly sensible for those most at-risk, given daily case counts during much of the summer of 2022 were 10 times the 2021 low.

• How will public health officials regain the credibility they sacrificed (especially at the federal level) with shifting directives that flew in the face of the case/death count data and contradicted their earlier guidance?

• If nothing else, perhaps we’ve learned that contract tracing during a pandemic is a futile gesture if you don’t start until more than a month after the spread has started. The fact is, by April 2020, we had no clue how prevalent the virus was in the population. We still don’t. We’ll simply NEVER know how many people have had COVID, given the enormous numbers of cases that produced no symptoms. Before the next one hits, can we please focus on developing rapid-test solutions to let people know they’re infectious?

• What will it take to get more Americans off the couch and in better shape (hypocrisy alert: I should be one of them), with stronger physical defenses against contagion?

• I’m never going to suggest a supplemental regimen for anyone else (I have my own, though, and it seems to have worked) or pretend to offer medical advice. But it would be nice if the folks at CDC and NIAID, who are supposed to know such things, would be more forthcoming about the types of vitamins and minerals that are known to impede the development of coronaviruses and reduce the severity of symptoms.

• And for Pete’s sake, Washington: Can we please bring as much urgency to early treatment protocols and off-use approval for existing medications as we brought to pushing new vaccines? That strategy opened the door for tens of millions to doubt the safety of a product rushed to market. What do you say we try to cut down on the potential for political gamesmanship?

Over or not, the Great COVID Pandemic has indeed been a long, strange Odyssey. Not, however, a very good-looking one.

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