It may not be as bad as last year’s … but it certainly won’t be good.
This fall, unlike the one before it, and the one before that, America looks almost like its old self. Schools and universities are in session; malls, airports, and gyms are bustling with the pre-holiday rush; handwashing is passé, handshakes are back, and strangers are packed together on public transport, nary a mask to be seen. On its surface, the country seems ready to enjoy what some might say is our first post-pandemic winter.
Americans are certainly acting as if the crisis has abated, and so in that way, at least, you could argue that it has. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks,” President Joe Biden told 60 Minutes in September, after proclaiming the pandemic “over.” Almost no emergency protections against the virus are left standing; we’re dismantling the few that are. At the same time, COVID is undeniably, as Biden says, “a problem.” Each passing day still brings hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations; untold numbers of people continue to deal with long COVID, as more join them. In several parts of the country, health-care systems are struggling to stay afloat. Local public-health departments, underfunded and understaffed, are hanging by a thread. And a double surge of COVID and flu may finally be brewing.