COVID is here to stay. This is the way it seems, 18 months after the virus entered our lives to wreck them.
We thought we could go back to normal, after a year of lockdowns and social distancing. Like George W. Bush in Iraq, we declared victory prematurely. But we underestimated COVID’s resilience. Though it is wrong to ascribe intelligence to a virus, the organism seems resourceful enough to evolve into more enduring forms at a much faster pace than us “superior” species would. We developed vaccines that would keep us alive and, mostly, out of the ICU but no matter. COVID just evolved itself into the Delta variant and other strains that are stronger and more contagious. So, we had to go back to face masks, social distancing and zoom meetings. Sadly, like AIDS or 9/11, COVID has changed our lives forever, and there is no turning back.
Humans are stubborn, and there are many of us who, like the U.S. military, refuse to accept defeat. We don’t want to be locked up in our homes, or to be limited in the social contacts that make us human. We certainly don’t want to imprison our faces in stifling face masks. As some of you know, I work part-time in Port Everglades and the Port of Miami, assisting cruise ship passengers. Like everyone else, I wear a face mask at work. I also wear a mask when I attend Dolphin Democrats meeting or Congregation Etz Chaim services at the Pride Center. I admit that I hate to wear a face mask, especially since I am vaccinated. But I do it for the common good, not to show off my face mask collection. (Visit my Facebook page for samples.) Like the once-progressive but now-conservative comedian Bill Maher said, “I take one for the team.” Other people, alas, are not so altruistic, and refuse to wear a mask because it would encumber them.
In the United States of Trumpism and Q-Anon, everything is political. Refusing to take a vaccine was once the province of a few crackpots. Now it is all-too-prevalent among right-wingers of all kinds, who believe that turning down Pfizer or Moderna is a good way to “own the libs.” Never has cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face been so obvious. Though the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will not prevent us from catching COVID, they will keep us alive and relatively healthy. They are more effective than the horse medicine or the Regeneron that Gov. Ron DeSantis is peddling all over Florida. Unfortunately, for political and selfish reasons, many of our fellow citizens have turned down the vaccines, as a result of which Florida has one of the highest rates of COVID hospitalizations and deaths in the country.
Speaking of Ron DeSantis, wise and compassionate governors would make the best decisions possible for the good of their constituents. Of course, DeSantis is not wise or compassionate. Like his mentor Donald Trump, DeSantis only cares about his extreme right-wing political base and his own political future. He certainly does not care about businesses, local governments, or school boards that he tries to browbeat into dropping all mask or vaccine requirements. Backed by a Republican State Legislature and a Republican State Supreme Court, DeSantis made himself Florida’s dictator. And he appears invulnerable. He certainly would not survive in a blue state like California, where the governor is being recalled for doing much less.
So, what can we do? I am heartened by the fact that Floridians are not taking this lying down; that the journalists that DeSantis hates are speaking truth to power and the school boards in our most populous counties are challenging his tyranny. Others are taking the governor to court, arguing that his evil moves are literally killing our children. The rest of us must also do our part. At least, we must make sure that DeSantis is only a one-term governor. We must bring back sanity to a state that throughout history has seen so little of it.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.