The Terrible New Normal

Someone* recently said a thing that stuck with me. Paraphrasing:

If you're saying "I'm not comfortable dining indoors right now", you should accept that you're saying, "I'm never dining indoors again."

Because there is basically no chance that things are going to materially improve any time in the next 2, 3 years, or maybe ever. There comes a time when "I'm just waiting for things to get better" is self-delusion. Because they aren't going to get better. This is the new normal. Forever.

* That someone is a particular celebrity COVID pundit who I think is pretty much a putz, and this was in the midst of one of their interminable, equivocating, minimizing, logorrheic twitter threads, so I'm not bothering to link to it. If you know who I'm talking about, good for you.

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51 Responses:

  1. 5

    I'm still at a point where my comfort level with eating out fluctuates along with the current COVID prevalence levels. However, I imagine it won't be long until we stop having access to anything more than rumor and innuendo regarding that data.

    Of course, I have young kids, so eating out was a rare luxury for me even before the pandemic hit...

    • tfb says:

      However, I imagine it won't be long until we stop having access to anything more than rumor and innuendo regarding that data.

      This is what depresses me.  I was looking at the UK data the other day, and without any analysis you can just see the quality decline, as things which were being updated daily move to weekly or worse and ate presumably also being massaged so the new invented (oh, sorry, 'averaged') data line up with the previous actual data.

      So much for 'following the science' eh, Boris?  Fuck, I wish you'd died of it in 2020: no-one deserved to as much as you did, you idle privileged fuck.

    • thielges says:

      We’re already at “rumor and innuendo”.  Most cases are going unreported.

      Anecdotally if I pick a date that divides the number of people I personally know catching covid into equal halves, that date would fall somewhere in July 2022.  It’s crazy out there right now.   Stay safe y’all!  

      • jwz says:

        And I have yet to receive a single exposure notification.

        • Perpetual says:

          I got an exposure notification, once.

          Two days after I became symptomatic...

          • Elusis says:

            I've gotten a few but the one that enraged me was the one I got SIX DAYS after the friend I'd seen two days before that tested positive. Of course by then I'd long since tested and quarantined until getting results (neg for me, pos for my partner, yay booster #2) because my friends are reasonably responsible people who tested at the first sign of symptoms and informed everyone they'd contacted, rather than lying about it like a plurality of Americans apparently thought was OK.

        • Ben Pfaff says:

          I got one exposure notification earlier this year through the Android feature. I was getting so many exposure notifications through my son's school at the time that it didn't really make a difference.

      • Me, my wife and kids have still never gotten it (knock on wood). It probably helps that I’m mostly a hermit and my kids go to a school that’s been fairly thoughtful about COVID, though.

  2. davel says:

    It didn’t have to be this way, and our society isn’t going to change anytime soon to make it not this way, so I have accepted that I’m not dining indoors anytime soon, and fuck you for that.

  3. Kevin says:

    At some point, I don’t know what your choices are. I can’t force other people to take precautions. There’s an argument that it’s too late anyway; CODID is now endemic. We had a chance to contain it, and that’s gone. So I can either accept the risk, while mitigating the risk to myself and others as much as possible, or be isolated for the rest of my life.

    • jwz says:

      I mean... that's exactly what I said. If what you are willing to tolerate today differs from what you are willing to tolerate tomorrow, it's not because the risk has improved. It's because you gave up.

      But also, the word "endemic" has been so misused that it's useless now, so depending on what you mean when you say it's endemic, I say either "you're wrong" or "that's not what that word means", you pick.

      • Michael says:

        Endemic has been coopted by people who would like to pretend we no longer need to take any kind of action.

        You can see that in Alberta, Canada where the new Premier fired the chief public health officer and is hiring advisors now that "accept that COVID is endemic". She also vowed that she will never, ever, bring in any kind of restrictions again.

        She's a total crackpot and yet somehow managed to convince her party to put her in charge. She's Canada's version of Liz Truss.

      • Big says:

        I admit to having given up.

        The government here in Australia _maybe_ did a slightly better job of handling this than in San Francisco, but even they totally gave up at the end of last year.

        I have so far managed to avoid getting infected, probably mostly because of my misanthropic tendencies and the fact that I quite enjoy my own company. But even as a loner misanthrope I am back to almost 2019 rates of eating out and live gigs. I’ve had two indoor sit down restaurant meals so far this week, I’m going to a warehouse party DJ show tonight, I’m doing brunch in a cafe tomorrow, and a movie at a cinema on Sunday.

  4. CSL3 says:

    I mentioned under Violet's latest Round-Up that I wish 🇬🇧 would just make COVID the new prime minister. Then we'd know for sure that its tenure would end soon.

    I haven't been inside any restaurant to sit and eat for nearly three years. I only go to order-and-leave, or simply pick up what I've ordered beforehand. The only place I've eaten inside was The Lounge, until Breed's bullshit gave you guys no other choice. (I haven't been in a cinema either; only to The Lounge for last year's Cyberdelia.)

    Aw, fuck it... restaurants these days are too noisy with too many tvs set on motion-smoothing. Though I do love parklets, when there are few enough passers-by to eat with little worry.

  5. jal says:

    I mean, there's a pretty wide range of exposure risk between meeting for coffee and spending hours drinking in a packed dining room being smuggled into "dining indoors". Presumably this is because the speaker is intent on othering people with different views, but this is a lot like "If you're saying you're not comfortable racing motorcycles, bicycles are off limits as well, or you're being inconsistent."

    But that said, I've eaten in at a restaurant twice this year. Before 2020, it would have been slightly unusual for me to do so only twice in a week. Not all of that is risk aversion, and in fact, I can't really separate out different aspects of lifestyle changes that started then. But that was the precipitating event.

  6. Andres says:

    I disagree. If you are old enough that 2/3 years are the same as “forever”, then sure, things won’t probably change in that time. But in 5/10 years?
    Covid is here to stay, but research is still very active. Better vaccines could come (not only improvements to the ones we have, like we are getting, but completely different vaccines that work different), as well as better treatment. We are still learning a lot about it.

    • CSL3 says:

      But... what we do know is:
      1 - new mutations are popping up, negating the effectiveness of the vaccines we have
      2 - the vaccines we have may soon be out-of-reach to the general public with governments ending their states of emergency (despite hundreds of thousands dying each day - 400/day in the US alone)
      3 - the only thing worse that catching COVID is learning that it's Long COVID
      4 - immuno-compromised people are all the vulnerable in public, which they need to be due to capitalism and "return to office" bullshit
      5 - vaccines are a great weapon in the fight against COVID, but they're not the only weapon: masking, social distancing, and sheltering at home are also major parts of the "arsenal"; as proven by the low influenza numbers of the past 2 1/2 years

      All the above clearly proves that the COVID-19 infection rate is still pandemic, not endemic. We could have all-but-eliminated it last year, but people bowed to anti-vaxxers and -maskers, so the virus is mutating beyond control. At this rate, the only thing sure about 5-10 years from now is that the world will have a generation people disabled by COVID when it could've been prevented.

      • MattyJ says:

        You forgot:

        6 - people have to actually get the fucking vaccines.

        • CSL3 says:

          No, I described them the same as masking, social distancing, etc.: you have to do them all rather than just tossing up your hands and saying "Well, I just we'll just live with the virus".

      • tfb says:

        We could have all-but-eliminated it last year

        All-but-eliminating it doesn't really help you, unless you can do so globally or are willing to impose really draconian controls like China.

        Note I'm not supporting the 'let's give up' people: I don't know what the answer is, but it's not giving up.

        • CSL3 says:

          The answer the very thing that almost eliminated it: all the mandates and mitigations. They were working and they should have gotten continued support rather than the "Meh, good enough" reaction that led to pulling them all back.

          That is giving up.

          • tfb says:

            I agree that the technical answer is what we were doing.  What I don't know is how we actually get people to do that.

            I mean, people in charge of launching crewed spacecraft started ignoring risks because they didn't destroy the spacecraft and kill the crew this time ... until one day they did.  And then, after a big investigation which showed everyone what the problem was, these same people forgot, and started ignoring other risks which didn't destroy the spacecraft and kill its crew this time ... until they did.  And those people had extensive training in thinking about risk, especially after the first disaster.

            I can't see any chance of getting people to not just stop doing the things they need to do, because they didn't get ill when they didn't do the thing this time.  Still less if it's someone else getting ill.

            To be clear: I think there is, in fact, no hope.

      • Andres says:

        I don’t see how anything you are saying is relevant to the discussion…
        Did you reply to the wrong person?
        Of course it would be better is Covid was eliminated last year. But that ship has sailed.
        Of course it would be better if everyone was vaccinated, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
        What does that have to do with future medical advances that could allow the disease to be more manageable? I too am sad about the millions of people currently with long Covid, but what’s that have to do with this conversation?

        • CSL3 says:

          Because 1 - medical advances mean nothing when they'll be priced so high that only the wealthy can access them; and 2 - the winter wave with its frighteningly-infectious new variants is here now, not later. After nearly 3 years, optimism for the future is blissful ignorance (as stated in the OP above).

          • Andres says:

            1- No comment, I’m not in the US
            2- We are talking about going out to diner in a few years. What does it matter whatever variant is happening now?
            3- I agree that public health policies have been disastrous. But medically there has been a lot of progress in little time. This is a new disease. 3 years is nothing.

  7. 6

    It's an ongoing source of flabbergasty to me how people are willing to risk death or permanent disability just to eat inside a restaurant. The only theory I have that makes even a little bit of sense is that bossing the waitstaff around is a widespread sex fetish.

    • bmj says:

      It's an ongoing source of flabbergasty to me how people are willing to risk death or permanent disability just to $some_potentially_dangerous_activity

      We routinely risk life and limb to do a lot of "normal" things.  I really enjoy rock climbing and riding my bicycle in the woods.  Both are potentially fatal.  As humans, we understand life is risky.

      Note well: I am not arguing for dropping COVID mitigation measures, or pretending like COVID isn't potentially fatal for people.  I'm just noting that many things most of us do nearly every day were once considered very risky, and people argued against those things for that very reason.  Risk calculus changes over time.  We also owe it to our communities to be thoughtful about how we approach and manage risk.

      • jrl says:

        Understanding that 'life is risky' isn't even close to enough. We (humans) are very often terrible at estimating risk.

        We're also showing ourselves (again) to be pretty terrible at adjusting our behaviour for risk and uncertainty that affects others. I presume that you are the most competent estimator of the risks you take when you go biking and climbing, but if you get unlucky it's not like 15 other people are going to get a broken leg or a concussion.

        We have really good tools for helping to estimate risk, but even though those tools are easily available they are hard (or impossible) for most people to use and the estimates they give are hard for many to either comprehend or believe.

        And living in a world full of mis-leadership isn't helping.

        I get the same sense of flabbergasty too - right up until I remember that these people are absolutely not willing to risk death or permanent disability. That is not what is at stake in their internal risk estimation process.

      • sleep says:

        actually, as humans, we *don’t* understand life is risky. that’s why you rock climb or why i drove my car like a joyriding lunatic as a teenager. “the bad shit happens to other people” is why we live the way we do. protocol fatigue re: covid is like the all-time single greatest collective example of that dynamic

      • tfb says:

        Rock climbing, or racing cars, or ... is dangerous, sometimes very dangerous, for the people choosing to take part in the activity (and, historically at least, for spectators in some cases).  Things people do or do not do around CV19 may be dangerous both for them but also for other people who have no choice in the matter at all.

        I'm depressed that I still have to make this point, after well over two years: people seem to be so innately selfish that this still has not sunk in.  I am completely fine with you hammering nails into your own head if that's the kind of activity you enjoy.  I am very much not fine with you setting off a nail-bomb in a public place.

    • Not Frank says:

      I have developed a suspicion that much like some other infectious agents are known to do, COVID might actually function to induce disinhibition/impulsiveness, so that once you've had it you are more likely to take risks and not exercise self-restraint.

  8. Not Frank says:

    It's wonderful how the folks most enraged at the idea of a "new normal" created one.

    My new worry comes from being reminded that there are states that had anti-masking statues (in place to deal with the Klan etc) that have only temporarily suspended them, and wondering whether we'll start seeing places make it illegal to mask up.

  9. 3

    I'm not dining out either, but I'm perhaps unrealistically optimistic for later. Naomi Wu has been working with far-UVC light, and I gather that the limiting factor is the cost rather than the tech itself; that can be solved. Also some are saying a vaccine that works on *all* coronaviruses is possible. So it may just be a matter of time. Until then, of course, I and my underlying conditions are staying outside.

    • tfb says:

      Based on this paper, you need 2mJ/cm^2 (a 'very low dose') to do for 95% of aerosolised viruses.  So that's 20J/m^2.  I don't know the time period you want to do this over but let's guess a second, based on people breathing out maybe once a second).  So 20W/m^2.

      Based on very casual checking, DNA lounge looks to be at least 6,000ft^2 of floor area, so at least 550m^2.  So this means about 11kW in power.

      I don't know how efficient very narrow-spectrum sources of UVC (207-222nm) light are, but let's guess 50%: so now we're at 22kW to drive the lights.  I'll make another guess that you probably can't evenly illuminate things and you'll need another factor of 2 for safety (so you need twice as much light as you would for a nice room with no inconvenient shadows): 44kW now.

      I have no idea what the current power usage is.  If electricity is 0.5$/kWh (based on current UK prices, US will be cheaper I am sure) this would be $22/h to run, so not hideous.

      I also worry about the claim that none of this gets to live cells ('far-UVC light cannot penetrate even the outer (non living) layers of human skin or eye'): perhaps that's true but my guess is it's just very attenuated.  That may be fine (people go outside during the day where there is ionising radiation and it only needs to be much better than that), but it's a thing to be checked.

      All of these numbers may be wrong: I just thought it was worth writing them down.

  10. sleep says:

    that's certainly a chilling soundbite, though i'm not sure i buy the premise. i was reading a few articles last week, and while i find that western mainstream rags have been altogether too naive about this thing thus far, i felt convinced that between a yearslong (instead of the initially hoped monthslong) slog towards herd immunity and iterative vaccines, the status quo may progress such that i can sit down in a corner booth in a diner at 3pm, scarf down my meal, and get out of there without feeling like i just risked the rest of my (already health-compromised) life. if we can arrive at that type of waypoint by, say, 2024, then i'm confident i won't lose my marbles waiting for the day.

    so while the blockhead you paraphrased may be somewhat right, he may also prove to be altogether wrong (as he and his kind have been about most things covid since day one). i remain hopeful. but i will acknowledge the one droplet of doom in the optimist's glass half full, which is that we're already seeing a pretty strong global pattern of people just not being interested in a second booster...which basically removes the profit motive to keep pouring resources into vaccine development (i.e., exactly what happened in the '00s when the first SARS revealed itself to be a paper tiger – had scientific inquiry and governmental budgets stayed the course, we likely could've avoided or severely minimized this second round now). i wouldn't be surprised to find out that big pharma execs are being briefed as we speak by number-crunchers who have come to the conclusion that it makes far greater financial sense to tread water on vax R&D and maintain a steady state of pandemic management instead of pouring billions into chasing some kind of breakthrough solution.

  11. Nate says:

    I agree that things aren't suddenly going to change (and I really hate that pundit if it's the dingleberry I think it is). However, I do think some possible improvements are on the horizon:

    It's possible that repeated infection (or vaccination) by omicron variants is needed to build up better cross-immunity to new ones. For those of us who haven't been infected but are vaccinated with mRNA, we're only just getting 0.5 doses of omicron BA.5 as opposed to the prior 3 doses of the Wuhan original. It may take a bit more to see lasting/robust omicron-like immunity. For those not getting vaccinated, maybe BQ.1.1 infection this winter on top of BA.5 this past summer is enough to start producing some level of omicron resistance.

    While vaccination is currently stalled at "here's half of a 6 month old BA.5 target, enjoy your winter", nasal vaccine development has been chugging away slowly. They may be here in another year or two and seem like the best potential option for mucosal immunity, which means less infection/transmission. They are moving slowly because there's no Warp Speed for them, which is an unnecessary self-own.

    Finally, surveillance (even the CDC's) has gotten pretty good. It's quite possible the next mRNA formulation will contains mutations that are predicted to dominate next, given modeling of antibody bypass potential in future mutations. The BQ.1.1 / XBB / BA.2.3.20 mutations were already predicted by Bloom Lab to have the most potential, before these appeared.

    I'm still wearing masks and not dining indoors in public, but only because I'd rather not get sick for the marginal enjoyment I get from that activity. I like having friends over without masks, making sure ventilation, air filters, and rapid tests are being used. If I get sick despite doing all that, it's definitely worth the risk to me.

    • CSL3 says:

      1 - there's no immunity from repeated infections, only mutations into new variants. And each infection doesn't make you immune, it makes you more susceptible to long-lasting health issues and/or death. Ever played a Zelda game? This is what happens every time you get infected:2 - nasal vaccines are so far in the future that they might as well be vaporware. Plus, method of vaccination was never the problem - it was the existence of a vaccine. Everyone who ever said "I'll wait 'til the vaccine is tested more" was full of shit; they were never gonna get the vaxxed. That's why right-leaning areas have the lowest numbers of vaxxing corresponding with high infection rates.

      3 - the CDC stopped counting daily numbers, so their estimates are shit. Period.

      Good for you for still masking... but that means nothing when one-way masking/vaxxing is only so effective and every world leader shrugs their shoulders.

      • Nate says:

        The scenarios I describe are not a sure thing but are plausible, given what we know about other coronaviruses.

        1. I'm not saying SARS-2 will just go away from population immunity. However, the size of the waves will decrease as people get more varied immunity from multiple infections. This happens with the cross-reactivity of antibodies against the various coronaviruses that cause colds. Depending on when you were born and thus prior infections, you may or may not be as susceptible to a given wave.

        I assume you're referring to studies like this one when you say repeated infection leads to greater risk of severe illness:

        This was based on VA data on 90% white, mostly older males. Despite this, I agree that repeated infections are dangerous, but it may not be the repetition that's the problem.

        Protection against severe illness has declined with each new variant that has significant immune bypass. So it may not be the reinfection that's the problem, but the antigenic distance of each new variant meaning reduced antibody binding from existing memory B cells. In short, the claim that "vaccines [prior infection] don't prevent reinfection but you're still well protected against severe illness" is no longer true. That protection against hospitalization declines due to how different the new variants are.

        So, I agree that our immunity wall (vaccine and/or infections) has not yet produced lasting protection against severe illness. It's good to avoid getting infected. However, that has to be balanced with spending life connecting with people.

        2. Nasal vaccines will take a long time to be approved and may not turn out to be effective, agreed. However, it's not just the delivery method that I'm talking about. Some nasal vaccines induce higher IgA levels vs. injection, which yields more IgG. The former seem to be what helps more with reducing infection/transmission.

        3. I'm not talking case counts, I mean sequencing & surveillance. The CDC has really stepped up collection of samples from hospitals and random travelers in order to detect new variants. They've done a lot of things wrong in this pandemic but this is a small bright spot.

      • prefetch says:

        Inhaled vaccine is in use now in Shanghai, nasal vaccine approved in India but yet to be rolled out (was developed at Washington University).

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