Victory over COVID! Nation jubilant!

Just kidding. Country yawns as emergency officially ends since only 1,000 Americans die of COVID each week.

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Kamehachi restaurant, Northbrook, at 12:30 p.m. on March 16, 2020, the day before J.B. Pritzker ordered all Illinois restaurants closed.

“I’m killing myself for a negi-hamachi roll.” Kamehachi restaurant, Northbrook, at 12:30 p.m. on March 16, 2020, the day before J.B. Pritzker ordered all Illinois restaurants closed.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Well, THAT’S over. Finally. Thank God.

The national COVID emergency is officially ending. At least according to the government, which should know. Finito. Done. As of midnight Thursday.

Still. Our old Uncle Sam is a little slow on the uptake, is he not? COVID ended for most people a long time ago, when the vaccines were rolled out and the public got two or three doses and didn’t have to worry that some bug clinging to a box of Cheerios would kill us. Frankly, when I heard that the government decided to stick a fork in it, I thought: “About time.”

Opinion bug


It’s certainly over for the 1.1 million COVID dead in America, who no longer have to worry about the pandemic or anything else. Though it isn’t nearly over for their surviving loved ones. And then there are the up to 23 million Americans who might have “long COVID,” whatever that is — unpleasant symptoms that medical science is still getting its head around. And the thousand-plus Americans who keep dying of COVID every week — it’s real enough for them, I suppose.

The national reaction to the million-plus COVID dead will always be a mystery to me. Almost 20 times the Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Yet our soldiers get a black granite gash of a monument in Washington DC. While the COVID dead get ... what? A quick cough into the collective national fist? No ceremony. Nobody even plays taps.

How come? Because they’re old? Meaning ... their lives are worthless? Maybe because I’m well on my way to being old myself, assuming I’m not there already, but that doesn’t quite wash. Thomas Jefferson was old when he died — 83, really old for 1826 — and he got that lovely domed memorial surrounded by cherry trees.

Maybe the problem was that too many Americans balked at the low-level, sensible steps necessary to avoid killing grandma. Wear a cotton mask when you go into 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp. Take remote classes. Hot to cast themselves as victims, they painted these sensible precautions as oppression. So recognizing the real death toll of COVID would be like grasping that the leading cause of death for children in the United States is gun violence. To recognize the toll is a step toward doing something about it, and to certain folks that’s unimaginable. We don’t need to solve a problem we won’t face.

The end of the COVID emergency really is about yanking back certain medical benefits, like free COVID tests. Funny, for a moment, when businesses that didn’t give their employees sick days realized that failing to do so means workers would to come in with COVID, I actually wondered whether the pandemic might nudge us toward the boogeyman, national health care, that all civilized nations but us enjoy. Ha. I can be so naive.

World War II, also a big deal, cost 405,000 American lives. Not half of COVID’s toll. And we had a big V-E Day — victory in Europe! — followed by V-J Day — victory in Japan! A third of Americans might have been fine with Hitler ruling Europe in 1940, but they got with the program, quick, and by 1945 were at least willing to accept that the war had happened. We did win over COVID, didn’t we? Maybe the problem is that too many Americans don’t recognize the illness, never mind the vaccine. Sometimes I act like one of them.

“I still can’t believe that happened,” I’ll say to my wife. Not that I’m doubting COVID occurred. But a kind of unbelieving awe at the whole disaster, starting from the Target shelves stripped of toilet paper — nobody ever did run out, did they? — and when J.B. Pritzker closed down the restaurants. That was the scariest moment, for me, heading over to lunch at Kamehachi, because I never knew when I’d get sushi again. Realizing I was the only person in the restaurant at 12:30 p.m., looking over at the sushi chef preparing my order and thinking, with dread, “I’m killing myself for a negi-hamachi roll.”

It was like a dream, wasn’t it? A bad dream. Leaving us ... where? Working at home much more. Isolated white-collar worker bees in our scattered one-person hives. For the next couple of years. Until ChatGBT starts doing our jobs and we’re free to ... what? ... sit on park benches and watch the clouds pass.

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