On Covid

Two years ago this weekend, the Gotham Gal and I were in Park City at the annual Sundance Film Festival with another couple we have been great friends with for thirty years. On Monday morning we came down to breakfast and our friends announced they were flying back to NYC a few days early. Our friend Phil has been trading the financial markets for as long as we’ve known him and he knew, about a month before most of us, that something big was going to happen and he wanted to get prepared for it. That’s when it first hit me that we were in for something big. The financial markets tend to see things a bit ahead of us.

If you look at the financial markets now, as I wrote two weeks ago, what we see is the unwinding of the Covid trade. Companies like Zoom and Peloton have seen their stocks come way down. Fiscal and monetary policies around the world that kept people fed and housed for the last two years are being unwound. And the financial markets are reacting as one would expect. Stocks are down. All risk assets are down a lot. This is the “tell” that Covid, as we have known it, is coming to an end in many parts of the world.

There are three primary reasons why Covid, as we have known it, is coming to an end in the wealthier parts of the world. First, we have less severe variants now. Second, most people in the developed world who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated, many multiple times. And third, we have antivirals that can protect those who get very sick.

One of the first wake-up calls I got early in the pandemic was a blog post I read called “The Hammer And The Dance” that was written by Tomas Pueyo on March 19th, 2020. In that post, he described the series of lockdowns and other drastic measures that we would all go through over the last two years in order to attempt to protect vulnerable populations and the medical system from a virus that would otherwise wreak havoc on the world. He was prescient and accurate. About a week ago Tomas wrote a Twitter thread explaining that we are now in the midst of the end of the pandemic. You can read it here. This tweet particularly rang true to me:

We all have been through a crazy, trying, stressful, and dangerous two years. Many of us have what Tomas calls PCSD, including our governments. And we all need to “unlearn many of the behaviors we’ve learned in the last two years”, particularly our governments.

But I am not one to criticize our governments too much. Almost 6mm people have died because of Covid around the world in the last two years. The death toll in the US is approaching 1mm people. If our governments had not done “The Hammer and the Dance”, those numbers would be massively higher. The death toll from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 was between 20mm and 50mm around the world. We can all find faults with the way our governments handled Covid, but I think it was largely a job well done.

In the US, the Trump administration prioritized vaccines with Operation Warp Speed which was a massive success. The Biden administration prioritized getting those vaccines distributed broadly and prioritized the most vulnerable populations. In NYS and NYC, vaccine mandates helped to get over 95% of NYers vaccinated and almost 75% “fully vaccinated“.

And yet, most Americans find fault with our government’s response. Trump lost his re-election bid at least in part because of Covid. And Biden is facing massive unpopularity, also at least in part because of Covid. We have people who oppose vaccination and masks. We have people who believe that everyone should be required to be vaccinated and masked. Nobody can agree on anything and everyone is angry.

It is time to stop obsessing about Covid. It is time to stop politicizing Covid. It is time to stop tweeting about Covid. It is time to stop reading about Covid. It is time to start healing and it is time to start moving on.

We can live with Covid and most of us will. The current death rate of Covid in the US is about what a bad flu season would be. We have vaccines if you want them. We will have anti-virals if you need them. We should take a lesson from many Asian countries and mask up if we are feeling sick from now on. And you can wear masks if you are uncomfortable on the plane or the subway. We’ve normalized mask-wearing in the US now and that is a good thing.

We’ve got other pressing matters to deal with. We have a warming planet that desperately needs our attention. We have economic challenges that need our attention. We have gun violence in our cities. We have other health care challenges to tackle. Covid was terrible, we are scarred from it, but we cannot let it divide us and we cannot let it drive us crazy. There are more important things facing us and let’s go deal with them now.

#Current Affairs