Remember hot vax summer?
Yeah, that was a cute idea.
I remember the hope and optimism of the spring as vaccines rolled out earlier than expected and things began to open up. People began traveling again, reconnecting with loved ones whom they hadn’t seen in a year and started to get out and do things again. There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel — finally. We were looking ahead to a summer — and future — of fun, friends and starting to put this dreadful pandemic in the rearview mirror.
Now it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel has been extinguished by an avalanche.
We seem to be going backward, with the powerful delta variant wreaking havoc and bringing cases in Washington back up to the peak levels from last fall and winter. This surge, of course, is fueled by the about half of the population nationwide who are not fully vaccinated and are giving the virus an opportunity to strengthen and mutate into more and more dangerous forms.
In Washington, the state Department of Health said we are seeing a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, driven by the delta variant tearing through the unvaccinated population. Less than a month after King County dropped its indoor masking mandate for vaccinated people in late June, the county’s top public health official recommended everyone put masks back on in indoor public spaces.
This is beyond frustrating. Author Celeste Ng captured my feelings well in tweets on Aug. 6, writing, “I feel closer to an actual nervous breakdown right now re: COVID stuff than I did in April last year. Maybe it’s because we have tools to fight it and we just aren’t using them? It’s one thing to watch the world burn. It’s another to watch it burn holding a turned-off hose,” writing further, “And I feel like our situation now is some of us holding a hose and wanting to use it, while some people push us away from the fire and also spray gasoline around. While waving the flag. Oh, and while saying the kids inside the building have a right to not get wet.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the danger in calling this a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Many people thought I was too sympathetic toward those who are willfully prolonging this pandemic through their refusal to be vaccinated. I still think we need to do better in understanding and addressing why Latinos in Washington have the lowest vaccination rate of all groups or why only 28% of young African Americans in New York City are vaccinated, for example.
But don’t get me wrong, I am furious about those who are determined to put our most vulnerable at risk and prolong and worsen this pandemic under the guise of “freedom” and “liberty.”
For example, as parents anxiously choose between no good options for their kids going back to school in September and with pediatric infections making up 15% of new COVID-19 cases last week nationwide, this week dozens of “Unmask Our Kids” rallies are planned across the state advocating for children to go to school and activities unmasked.
The fact that some people’s response to nearly 94,000 children getting COVID-19 infections is to hold anti-mask rallies makes my head explode.
And while states like Alabama are tossing 65,000 doses of unused lifesaving vaccines, low-income countries around the world are desperate for the protection and yet have only received 1% of the doses. It is unconscionable.
Making this all even harder to take are the daily reminders that the chickens have truly come home to roost on climate change. As I write this, the sky is again hazy from wildfire smoke and the temperature is again over 90 degrees in Seattle, creating difficult choices between heat, air quality and COVID-19 safety. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July was the world’s hottest month on record.
Whether you call it “languishing,” “malaise” or just plain rage, the mental-health effects of being back here again after weathering so much already are what one psychiatrist called the “sudden doom effect.” We thought we had turned a corner but, in large part due to the choices of others, delta has just given us one new corner after another, with no end in sight.
With COVID-19, heat and smoke surging all around us, it does not look like we are going to experience anything like the summer some of us were so confident we would have back in May.
But as we adjust to this new reality, we can name and understand how it is affecting us mentally and emotionally. In March, my colleague Paige Cornwell wrote that four times as many people reported anxiety and depressive disorder during the pandemic than pre-pandemic. It’s hard to see how we can progress mentally from the “disillusionment” phase of the state’s “Reactions and Behavioral Health Symptoms in Disasters” model when the disaster doesn’t seem to end.
As we look ahead to the possibility of another pandemic winter, we can take our mental and emotional health as seriously as we take our physical health. We can seek out and find mental-health resources and virtual groups and reconnect with loved ones who support our mental well-being. We can channel our rage and frustration into helping each other get through this. We can give ourselves and each other grace, with the knowledge that everyone is struggling.
As dire as things might feel, we are not alone and we are resilient.