There's A New Enemy In The Fight Against Covid — And It’s Not A Variant

by Cyndi Cohen
Scary Mommy and Justin Paget/Getty

17 months later we’re still fighting Covid-19, but a new, more complicated and less manageable enemy has surfaced. You’re probably thinking beta, delta, lambda, or whatever the next nasty, sneaky variant of SARS-CoV-2 that’s looming in the future. While these virus mutations are frightening and time-sensitive from a purely scientific standpoint, the enemy I’m referring to and whose negative effects I have increasingly noted is much less predictable, much more uncontrollable and significantly more dangerous than any component of the virus itself: it is the 2021 human being.

This entity comes in many forms – often caring, empathetic, and protective, at times insightful, wise, and concerned for the future, armed with knowledge, foresight, understanding, compassion, and the ability to adapt in a quick-changing, globally-connected modern landscape. On the flip side, it also shows itself as unkind, close-minded, selfish, ignorant, superficial, disrespectful, judgmental, misinformed or uninformed, and sometimes just plain defeated in the face of novel adversity, sadly armed with the unnerving inability to accept biological change at a complex level, and let go of man-made societal norms in exchange for health, safety, and enlightenment.

With the emergence of this latter form of the 2021 human being, we have forgotten sense, science and civic empathy; we have seemingly entered a kind of bleak twilight zone with blinders on, where we are threatened by the world around us rather than embarking on a new normal, seeing clearly, where we can begin to rebuild and move forward together.

Remember March 2020? In looking back to the beginning of this pandemic we typically remember the fear, sadness, uncertainty, and concern. And those feelings are very accurate whether they focused on your elderly parents, your young children, your small business, your own well-being or any situation in between. If and how the virus would affect us, how many people would get sick or die and would it be our loved ones, what it meant for our personal futures physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially and for the future of the world at large?

Questions multiplied, answers were scarce, and life as we knew it seemed over. Despite this apocalyptic weight on our shoulders, there was a different feeling in the air during those early days – a nuanced sense of awakening, true togetherness and hope, a sentiment we all shared and relied upon to get us through each day.

My pandemic story began with moving to a new house. Making settlement and relocating a family of six on the very day the world unofficially shut down wasn’t easy, and we weren’t quite sure what laid ahead. I vividly remember waking up in survival mode that first morning in a new family room, which was still just a stranger’s house with our things strewn about.

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We slept there, camp-out style, for weeks until we frantically cleaned and painted the kids’ rooms while distance learning commenced and working from home became a thing. I recall opening my eyes, in a house that was not yet my home, to the searing TV headlines of rising cases and a plummeting economy, and realizing we had very little food — but grocery shelves were empty.

As fear of the unknown began to fill my head and my chest tightened, I looked around that room at my sleeping children and dear husband, and suddenly felt a strange sort of security – we were together, we were safe, and we’d get through this.

And so far, we have. For personal and health reasons we made the choice and concerted effort as a family to remain socially distanced and extremely cautious as we navigate our return to “normal.” We have stuck with our educated choice and our instinct as parents to protect our kids, for better or worse.

We are the minority and we recognize that. We have missed parties, playdates, and holidays; games, classes, and competitions; connections with friends and family. At the same time, we have gained family movie nights, camp fires, puppet shows; cookie bakes, bike rides, and sled races. We have found self-reliance, mutual respect, and a deep family bond.

It seems in the rush to return to a pre-Covid lifestyle, many people have forgotten the raw vulnerability of early 2020 that forced us to feel our feelings, be alone with our thoughts and fears, and perhaps talk to (and really listen to) the people with whom we share our four walls. Still “in red” as we cynically refer to ourselves, we have sort of learned to live with and manage that sometimes still awkward level of closeness and togetherness. Our routine, our lifestyle, our activities, and our social interactions have changed and, so too, have our ideas, priorities, expectations, and attitudes…all in good, bad, and indifferent ways.

Sometimes I feel cloudy and confused, other times I feel edified and as though things could not be any clearer. It’s in that clarity that I began to notice and feel others around me, the sting of their judgement, and the personal impact of their actions. I feel all of that now, more than ever, and fear it much more than Covid itself.

I long for March 2020 when we were at our best, good people “all in this together.” I worry for my children, how this monumentally life-changing experience has impacted their development, their views, and their childhood. I lament the relationships that have drifted away, grieve over the past experiences that seem more like dreams than memories, and worry about what our new life will look and feel like post-pandemic. But, in that same clarity, I have found the time and space to address myself, to really see my husband and children, to appreciate my blessings, to respect the volatility of our environment, and to see others and the world around me almost as an outsider looking in.

While those I know have been jet setting on luxury vacations, throwing lavish parties and dining out, we’ve been mapping our next hike, quietly celebrating family milestones with scratch baked cakes and sharing our umpteenth home-cooked meal together.

While others have thrown caution to the wind and rolled the dice, we have navigated the tricky world of virtual learning for a year and a half, and are now grappling with limited options and angry opposition as a new school year looms. While others ostracize, politicize, and criticize, we push on and find creative solutions doing what we know is best for our family until each precious member can be protected.

We have had unexpectedly incredible days and days I’d rather not mention, but through it all I can confidently say that we have kept our word and done our part. We have worn the masks, we have stayed home, we have distanced, we have sanitized, we have vaccinated (as fully as we can thus far) — and we have done so patiently and respectfully with grace and tact while watching others do so much less.

All we ask for now, in the face of surging cases and a children’s vaccine on the horizon, is a bit of give and take, some understanding, and a little effort from this year’s Covid-deniers and partygoers. The pandemic hasn’t ended and Covid-19 is still spreading, no matter what the commercials say or you believe.

If I may share a bit of my newfound Covid clarity with y’all, the best way to beat this thing so we can all exit the twilight zone and get back to living, is to be a little less ‘2021 human being’ and a little more ‘2020 good person.’