A virus was leaked, accidentally, from a Chinese lab, which unleashed a rapidly infectious pathogen originally found in bats. In humans, it set siege on the respiratory system. But, apparently, it took a surprising detour to the human brain and brought about, well, . . . collective insanity. No such similar dual-threat damage accompanied polio, smallpox, or the Spanish Flu.
It is impossible to deny, but a pandemic viral in nature left us largely out of our minds—confused, irrational, indignant, and searching wildly in despair. Nearly two years living with COVID-19 drove us mad. Those crown-headed microbes reigned over our capacity to breathe, and think.
Call it: Wuhan Lunacy, which came into competition with a different agitation: Trump Derangement Syndrome. Often it infected the same people who then had the awful misfortune of being plagued by both mental impairments. I fear that they are too far gone to ever rejoin us again.
The coronavirus and its lethal array of variants have so far killed 5 million worldwide (750,000 in the United States), since its first discovery in January 2020. But imagine tens of millions more who never contracted the disease, were never in need of antibodies to fight it off, took two doses of the vaccine—Pfizer, no less—and a booster shot, and are breathing normally. And yet not wholly free from infection. Just mention COVID-19 and brain malfunction is suddenly revealed.
So much overexposure to contradictory information didn’t help matters. There was little faith in medical experts and government officials. The disease seemed to be poorly understood. Scientific ambiguity was rampant. Everyone was repeatedly told to follow the science—to place their trust in science. But sometimes the science didn’t trust the science. How else to explain the zigzagging directions on the latest knowledge? Lab coats came to resemble monkey suits. Elected officials took different approaches in responding to the pandemic and addressing the general public. President Trump downplayed the virus. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, like a Spanish matador, snarled at COVID-19. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received an Emmy for his daily performance as corona-town-crier.
What should an otherwise healthy individual believe? Don’t wear a mask; absolutely wear a mask. Wash your hands like Lady Macbeth; never mind, the disease is only minimally transmitted by touching surfaces. Stay six-feet apart because aerosol particles have short shelf lives; actually, remain further back because viral loads hang in the air like LA smog. Only enter well-ventilated areas. Wait, air-filtration is useless against the Delta variant. Cancel Christmas. Treat COVID-19 like Passover’s 11th plague. Shelter at home. Keep your kid away from old people. Buy stock in Zoom.
We’re only now slowly emerging from that haze of contradiction.
Americans were especially predisposed to losing their minds. And for good reason. With the possible exception of AIDS, no human sickness had ever before been this politicized and geographically divisive. A disease so prone to skepticism, COVID-19 managed to turn families and friends against one another; houses of worship and small businesses set against the government and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Red and Blue states were fighting a new Civil War, this time with petri dishes and mask defiance.
Certain large gatherings required no mask mandates—like defunding-the-police protests. Some businesses, like gun and liquor stores, were deemed too essential to remain closed. In California, the Governor and its best-known Congresswomen were permitted to eat inside a restaurant and patronize a beauty salon, respectively.
Some state boundaries were too infected to cross; the Rio Grande, however, on most days looked like it was hosting a maskless, contagious track meet. Vaccine mandates applied to public and private employees, unless they worked in Texas and Florida, in which case such bodily intrusions demanded by employers could result in steep fines. Vaccine passports were issued but not always required. The number of negative COVID-19 test results, or positive antibody tests, didn’t seem to convince many that one was free from contagion.
Oh, and there was some dispute whether Operation Warp Speed travelled in slow motion.
Now there appears to be a debate about whether Dr. Anthony Fauci, Time Magazine’s Guardian of the Year for 2020, lied to Congress when he testified that the National Institute of Health did not provide funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to conduct “gain-of-function research”—essentially, did the United States help finance experiments that altered the character of the coronavirus before this flu flew the Wuhan lab and took off for parts truly unknown? One wonders why poke the bear and improve the “functioning” of a virus that was already killing bats unless the endgame was to make it even more lethal to humans.
It’s just too much to process with all this finger pointing. It is safe to say, however, that if teams of Chinese scientists were spending time in remote bat caves over a number of years, and returned to Wuhan to tinker with an exotic virus, someone should have thought to flash the Bat-Signal as a distress call to summon help instead of covering it up. Two years of this corona-crusade, and the Chinese are looking more and more like the Joker every day.
Hopefully, we are approaching the end of this viral and mental nightmare. Liberals, ordinarily known as free-thinking, open-minded, procedural, unruffled amid competing claims, and deliberate in assessing risks and making decisions, didn’t fare much better. Passions still ran high. Snap judgments reflexively made. Moments of hysteria that now can’t be undone.
Calm conversations seemingly eluded everyone. We may never come to know how the virus originated, what should and should not have been mandated, was school closures and at-home learning ultimately bad for kids, could more small businesses have been saved, and, of course, how much has binging on Netflix and Hulu rotted our minds?
Traces of all this COVID-19 madness may linger long after an actual cure is discovered. Regaining our sanity, however, is another matter, entirely.