"Throw your mask up/They're playing our song/It's a party in the U.S.A."

REASON GONE MAD: The pandemic is over, and not a moment too soon

What’s that you say? The pandemic is not over? What are you talking about? Why would you say that?

Oh my gosh, do any of you remember the COVID-19 pandemic? Of course you do. That was a crazy, awful time. From shutdowns, and toilet-paper hoarding, and job losses, and wiping down our groceries, and heartbreaking separations from sick loved ones, and fear and uncertainty and anxiety, to cheering our health-care workers (until we instead harangued them for not giving us horse dewormer), to battles over masks, to the miracle of vaccines, to battles over those same vaccines, to the development of antiviral treatments, and on and on and on.

All I can say is this: Like you, I’m glad that’s all behind us and that the pandemic is finally, totally, completely over. Woo hoo! We’re back to normal life and ready to par-tay!

Wait, what? Sorry, I’m having a hard time hearing you. What’s that you say? The pandemic is not over? What are you talking about? Why would you say that? I mean, I’ve walked around Great Barrington and elsewhere and seen restaurants and bars jam-packed with maskless people of uncertain, does-anyone-really-care-anymore vaccination status. I’ve been to crowded theaters where there are no masks in sight. People are going on cruises again. Vaccination requirements to eat in restaurants and mask mandates in schools nationwide have disappeared.

You can’t wear masks when you’re pounding brewskis, amirite?

And why is that? There can only be one reason: The pandemic is over! We totally crushed COVID-19, baby! High-five! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Everybody sing: “Hold your mask in the air if you really don’t care!” Woo hoo!

What? You’re saying that’s not true? That I should pay attention to the increasing case count for Omicron subvariants? And that the Great Barrington Board of Health continues to recommend that everyone wear a mask “while indoors in public settings, regardless of vaccination status?” And that Philadelphia just reimposed its indoor mask mandate? And that I should read the news, rather than just pretend the pandemic is over?

Okay, fine, whatever. (Rolls eyes dismissively.) Hang on a second. (Grabs copy of The New York Times, adjusts reading glasses, begins turning pages, suddenly jabs triumphantly at a story.)

See, I was right! Look right here, a story about how Congress has not reauthorized money for our efforts to vaccinate the world, which means those programs are winding down. And that federal funding is running out for vaccines, antiviral medicines and testing. That proves the pandemic is over, because vaccinating the world, in particular, was understood to be essential to avoiding new variants that might evade current vaccines. Congress may be dysfunctional, but our elected leaders wouldn’t be so stupid as to abandon these global efforts if still needed. What does that mean? Obviously, it means the pandemic is over, buddy! Woo hoo!

And check this out (points to another story): The rate of new vaccinations, and particularly of first boosters, has plummeted. Prior to last week’s authorization of boosters for people over 50, we averaged only 225,000 shots per day in the United States. And the percentage of people fully vaccinated has barely budged in two months. That can only mean one thing: Nearly everyone in America is vaccinated and boosted — the best defense against illness and spread of the virus, right? I’m sure the dashboards showing vaccination rates will soon be updated to show near-universal vaccination and boosting, because that’s where we must be since, according to everyone, the pandemic has ended.

Blue is good, right?

So, c’mon man, get out of your bubble! The evidence is everywhere! If the pandemic wasn’t over, why did more than 600 D.C. bigwigs get together in person, without masks, for the annual Gridiron Dinner — an event where the Washington Post reported “some of the comic skits featured actors dressed as the coronavirus, like large, green bouncing balls with red frills.” Oh my lord that must have been hilarious! A comedy sketch featuring people dressed as a virus that’s killed a million people in the United States and 6 million globally? And left millions more with long-term illness that can last months and be debilitating? Hoo boy, that is some high-quality entertainment. No doubt they wouldn’t joke about COVID if the pandemic wasn’t totally over and everyone hadn’t already “moved on” to “normal life.”

Attendees at the Gridiron didn’t have to show a negative test but they did have to be vaccinated. And it’s not like anyone there got COVID, right? So I don’t see how — sorry, what’s that? More than 10 percent of the attendees got COVID? No, that can’t be right, because as I’ve just repeated several times, the pandemic has ended. People are tired of COVID. They are “over it.” So that means any so-called “cases” from the Gridiron Dinner must be part of the comedy show. It’s brilliant! Don’t you get it? It’s a quirky Andy-Kaufman-style gag: They “got” “COVID” from the actors dressed up as the coronavirus! Oh man, that’s hysterical, I can’t wait for the big reveal at a press conference announcing that no one actually got COVID!

(More shuffling of newspaper pages, another jab at a page.) And look here! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this cool new map showing COVID risk by county as red, yellow or green. And the map is almost entirely green. Green is good!

Wait, what’s that? The CDC’s risk assessment now puts far greater emphasis on hospitalization rates, which means that once COVID hospitalizations rise to a concerning level, community spread of the virus may already be widespread? And that re-instituting mask requirements and other mitigation will therefore come too late to avoid a surge in sickness? And that CDC’s case counts are vastly under-counted anyway because of growing reliance on home testing?

Without this pesky mask, I can finally feel my allergies returning. Nature really does heal itself.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe you. For that to be true, you’d have to believe the new map and how the CDC calculates risk levels were somehow influenced by politics in an election year when Democrats, who narrowly control the House and Senate, face electoral headwinds fueled by pandemic fatigue. And we all know that public-health policy is entirely walled off from political pressure. Sheesh, you!

What’s that you say? Cases are in fact rising — and quickly in some states? And the immunocompromised and children too young for vaccination are particularly at risk? And more than 500 people a day are still dying from COVID in the United States? And there’s no clear definition of what “fully vaccinated” means in terms of boosters or amount of time since your last shot? And vaccinated people with COVID can be asymptomatic, which is good, but that means they can unknowingly spread the virus, which is bad? And that we seem to be in a tragic, lather-rinse-repeat cycle of foolishly rolling back mitigation efforts every time case counts drop, thus driving up case counts?

Look, I don’t know where you get your so-called information, but I’m starting to think it’s from “The Doom & Gloom Let’s Bring Everyone Down Post-Dispatch,” published by Crankypants Press of Loserville, Massachusetts (population: you). Millions across America feel like “it’s time to move on from COVID” and that’s good enough for me. And don’t discount the power of those collective feelings: I read on some totally legit Facebook page that once the coronavirus realizes we’re “done with COVID,” it will lose its power. And then it will just pack its microscopic bags and catch a flight out of here — aboard an airplane where masks may no longer be required after April 18. Why? Because the pandemic is over. Woo hoo!

Bill Shein is editor and publisher of Crankypants Press.