COVID Is Not Normal: The Language of a Virus

There are no “seasons” of sickness.

NPR’s science podcast Short Wave released an episode entitled “What You Need to Know about the Current Tripledemic” on January 17, 2024. The host, Regina G. Barber, discusses the current surge in RSV, the flu, and COVID with NPR health correspondent Pien Huang, mostly citing US CDC data and guidelines.

The episode was pure propaganda to normalize COVID. To normalize what Huang referred to as “the annual tripledemic that is RSV, the flu, and COVID” and to downplay the impact of illness, the deadliness, the risk of disability, and any possible solutions.

To be very clear — we could have ended COVID. It is a failure of governments and other billionaire elites who would rather have a sick workforce than change. Who’d rather keep you ill and stressed because you’re more controllable and it’s profitable. For example, there is no generic COVID vaccine because Bill Gates, the 6th richest person in the world, wants to make more money on patents.

(Gates — and others of his class — do not hang around unvaccinated and untested people, go where the air’s not ventilated correctly and UV light hasn’t cleaned the room, or without costly nasal spray that eliminates COVID. They also don’t fly on commercial airplanes or work in office buildings, restaurants, or grocery stores. They have access to healthcare and drugs that you don’t, and they mask with N95s or respirators if they’re ever in a place they cannot control. Do as the billionaire elites do, not what they tell us plebeians to do.)

We saw what paying people to stay home or eliminate a virus could look like, as one flu variant died when COVID precautions were still in place. Not to mention how the meager US COVID payments temporarily lifted families and children out of poverty and stimulated the actual economy.

NPR’s coverage began by referring to this as “the COVID season.” Seasons are naturally occurring events. They are forces of nature. You don’t get to choose that it is now winter (or summer) where you might live. Calling this “COVID season” seems to apply the laws of nature to it and makes infectious waves natural.

Additionally, scientific studies have specifically examined how seasonal environmental changes (temperature and humidity) affect COVID transmission. Unlike the flu and colds, COVID’s airborne transmission is unaffected by environmental changes. The virus spreads at similar rates regardless of temperature and humidity, or season.

This is further amplified by the use of “annual.” There is no reason for COVID to exist still. There is no reason for it, RSV, or the flu to be an “annual” event. We humans now understand viruses and know how to prevent and stop their spread and hopefully eliminate them, given time, vision, resources, and hope. Will there be new viruses or other illnesses in humanity’s future? Yes, but that doesn’t mean humanity should give up.

Believing in “annual” or “seasonal” illnesses normalizes that you will be sick every year or every season. This does not need to happen. You do not need to be sick. Nor do your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and anyone else in your community. We should not leave behind children, the elderly, disabled people, and anyone else at high risk in our community as collateral damage. Seasonally normalizes reinfection. It is not natural or normal to have caught COVID five or six times; it is a failure of public health systems and society and puts you at extra risk for Long COVID with each reinfection. This is like saying you should freeze to death as if we haven’t created ways to keep ourselves warm in the winter.

Short Wave called COVID a “respiratory illness,” the same as RSV and the flu. COVID is not a respiratory illness. It does affect the respiratory system. However, this is akin to calling lung cancer a respiratory illness. COVID is a vascular disease. Something we’ve known for several years now. It is dangerous because it attacks the vascular system, causing blood clots, heart issues, and a lot of other long-term and disabling effects if they don’t kill you first. That’s what makes COVID different from the flu.

The vascular nature of COVID is why Long COVID and its multitude of chronic symptoms happen. While you can get Long COVID from a single infection, reinfections compound symptoms, and each increases your risk of developing Long COVID. Even if you do feel fine now, COVID may have done unknown damage to your vascular system that could present in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years. In addition to those disabled by Long COVID currently, many are predicting COVID will have far-reaching and unknown future consequences as long-term damage ages and is further assessed.

In explaining why winter seasons cause more illnesses, NPR’s Huang only discussed indoor air quality in terms of “fresh air,” a.k.a. opening your window. This is not the only way to purify the air or even an efficient one. You can purchase air purifiers or newer HVAC systems that do this. Many options don’t include inviting freezing winter winds into your home.

Huang continued, “Flu and RSV have these pretty established winter patterns, but COVID isn’t quite there yet. It kind of yo-yos up and down. We had the spike during summer as well.” That’s right, friends, it’s only worrying because there’s no established pattern. If we can get COVID on your schedule, would between Thanksgiving and your work holiday party be okay? When will it feel normal to get sick? I guess that’s just life!

When Barber asked why COVID is rising, Huang mentioned waning immunity, especially to new variants, and that fewer people have gotten booster vaccines than other rounds. This is notably the first COVID vaccine that costs money as previously the US government 100% subsidized the vaccine.

Throughout their reporting, NPR persisted with a message that the tripledemic isn’t that bad. CDC numbers around declining doctor visits and hospitalizations equaled that “we may be turning a corner.”

But the “turning a corner” was immediately undercut by: “Wastewater still shows very high levels of COVID, highest in the South and the Midwest.” Wastewater says COVID transmission right now is higher than the same time last year. Wastewater doesn’t depend on someone electing to go to a doctor — whether they’re electing not to go because the infection seems mild, they cannot afford a doctor, OR the zillion reasons that US healthcare is inaccessible and inequitable. Wastewater doesn’t lie and say it feels fine. Wastewater doesn’t experience shame, can’t be bullied, doesn’t have to clock in to work, and doesn’t need money to afford healthcare.

But Huang and Barber downplayed this surge by comparing it to Omicron (the highest infections) and stating that ER visits are down 13% compared to previous weeks.

When asked why this surge in COVID — that’s apparently no big deal and just an annual force of nature — Huang said, “People aren’t masking or really taking precautions. People haven’t gotten booster shots.” Then they reported that IN THE LAST WEEK, 35,000 new people had been hospitalized and 1,200 DIED of COVID in the US. It’s been especially bad in the Southeast, which is reporting strain at children’s hospitals as kids are highly vulnerable to RSV, the flu, and COVID.

When talking steps to prevent the tripledemic from further spread, “awareness” was listed as the first step. If NPR’s science show seeks to normalize COVID, do we think cable news, newspapers, and whatever “news” source is trending on social media will get anything right?

Next was vaccination, with stats showing that 50% of US adults got their flu shot and 20% got their recent COVID booster. There was no mention of the RSV vaccination numbers. Again, the COVID booster requires you to pay now. They are harder to get than flu shots, and some places could not get the COVID vaccine in the fall. In my experience, I was in my doctor’s office for an unrelated reason, and the nurse was like, “How about a flu shot?” and did not have the COVID vaccine.

The third and final suggestion was to stay home if you are sick. Yes, everyone should do this. But people do not. 75% of adults have concealed an infectious disease to not miss work, travel, or social events. Sometimes, it is shame or fooling ourselves into thinking it’s not that bad. However, many people cannot stay home sick because they have to work. They have to care for their children or other family members. Many employees do not have access to sick days. Staying home when you are ill and resting is a privileged luxury that does not fit under our current economic system.

There was no mention of a tried and true method of preventing transmission of RSV, the flu, and COVID: masking.

Yes, even “liberal” NPR let the anti-science screaming toddler adults win. On their science program! Anyone who mocks you for wearing a mask is a middle school bully. I don’t know about you, but I’m 40, and I don’t care what people with a middle-school bully mentality think about me.

Masks are easy, simple, and effective. Let Bill Nye show you how they work. If you need someone to bully you into wearing one, Bill Nye will do that, too. Masks lower transmission rates and prevent infections, especially N95 masks. Yes, you can breathe normally in them, even with asthma, so stop acting like a toddler adult.

My one known exposure to COVID was at my neighbor’s house. The neighbor was ill but didn’t think it was COVID. She wore a medical mask. I wore an N95 for all but 15 minutes of the 2 hours I was there. There were 4 other neighbors also there: 1 wore an N95 the entire time, and 3 didn’t mask. Thankfully, no one caught COVID. One of the most effective ways to stop transmission is for the sick person to wear a mask, but the best is when everyone wears a mask. While mask wearing doesn’t 100% guarantee no COVID transmission, if combined with vaccination, you come to the closest that a regular person can get.

Wear your mask to protect yourself and others

There is no reason to catch COVID, the flu, or RSV (or transmit it) when picking up cereal and potato chips at the grocery store or finding the perfect nail at the hardware store. Not wearing a mask doesn’t make these activities more pleasant. Not getting sick is far more pleasant.

There are no calculated risks when the majority of adults in the US are taking zero precautions. Everything is a risk, and everywhere is riskier in this tripledemic. You cannot take the risk of a family gathering when you also go to the doctor’s office — the place where people go when they are sick! — and don’t wear a mask. Or hop on public transit without a mask, yet wax poetic about how you have to eat inside at your favorite restaurant.

“Liberal” NPR politically avoided talking about masking as a precaution on their science program. They normalized the idea that COVID will be with us forever and that being sick with RSV, the flu, and COVID is a regular part of life and that forever going forward, you will have to get sick. This is anti-science. This is anti-community. This is propaganda for the chambers of commerce and business interests and a lack of government accountability and support.

NPR only hoped for a “decrease or stabilize numbers.” They could not and dared not imagine a world without tripledemic seasons that leave people sick, disabled, and dead. This has gone from a pandemic with scary unknowns to a human public health disaster fueled by a failure to think communally, use our resources, and have hope. Without hope and community, what even is a society?

At the very end, Huang mentioned that maybe we’d see “people wearing masks occasionally again” as the parting music played them out as if that was a fantasy no one dared to dream.

Dream bigger and demand better — tripledemics are not normal, sicknesses don’t have seasons, COVID is a vascular disease, get your booster, and wear your mask. Wear a mask to care about yourself and others.

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