Recent “news” about the latest uptick of Covid-19 cases in Mono County has, more or less, been airborne by word of mouth. These most recent cases have not been contextualized in broader datascapes by public health officials, in the manner to which we have grown accustomed.
It is yet another indicator of a post-pandemic world. A grave marker, of sorts, for the pandemic of yesteryear(s) that has long gone by.
But, has it?
On Wednesday, Dr. Tom Boo, Mono County’s Interim Public Health Officer, released the following statement:
“COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is once again widespread in our region, and hospitalizations are increasing throughout California. While hospitalization levels remain far below the rates seen during previous COVID-19 surges, we anticipate a steady increase as we enter the winter months. Currently, most individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 are elderly, and under-vaccinated.”
Though Dr. Boo’s statement has been abbreviated above, in full, there is still no mention of the total number of cases reported in Mono County in recent months.
In search of that number, I encountered voicemail box after voicemail box at both Inyo County’s and Mono County’s health department offices. Covid task force contact numbers, for me, have come to connote images of sawed-off landlines, and emptied file cabinets.
Upon finally getting a hold of one such task force administrator at the Mono County Department of Health, she explained, “We just don’t have those statistics anymore. We’re no longer in a state of emergency.”
Visiting the website that once tracked cases within Mono County, and was updated daily by Los Angeles Times Staff, brings users, now, to a pop-up warning: “This archived page was updated for the final time on June 7, 2023.
This makes sense. It is laborious and anything but cost-effective to compile large quantities of data at a rate approximating real time. Moreover, the prevalence of in-home testing and lack of formal reporting for positive tests have severely skewed relevant data sets across the country. The recent inaccessibility of COVID-19 statistics does not indicate a total lack of virus-related news to disseminate. Rather, the infrastructure in place to disseminate that information (at such a granular level) has since been retired, for lack of need. The curve has finally been flattened. The alarm system has been switched off.
Mono County is no exception.
“The county doesn’t track,” said Justin Caporusso, the media representative for the Mono County Health Department. “We anticipate that people will submit positive test results, but most people are not reporting. It’s not surprising that the trend is going up, given that we’re heading into winter. We are seeing an uptick across the country.”
That uptick—while it does exist—has become harder to define as a member of the public, absent the systemized recording and reporting that was deployed at the outset of the pandemic.
It is odd to think that in a world which is, most accurately, post-pandemic without being post-Covid, I find myself mourning the loss of those all-too-familiar metrics. Reported cases. Vaccine doses distributed. Hospitalizations. Units of PPE manufactured. We all know the lists.
Many of those numbers indicated horrible truths. But we held on to them, like pencil-ticked door jambs, to make sense of an unfamiliar moment. To find resolve in those most finite and incremental successes. We rattled off the day’s statistics as if we were trading in baseball cards, because, well, there was a bizarre kind of comfort to it. There is some beauty in control, when faced with crisis, isn’t there? I think someone must have said that once.
But now, winter is coming. And the first, true, post-pandemic winter at that. Dr. Boo predicts:
“Current forecasts for winter respiratory disease suggest it may be another challenging winter for hospitals and communities. While it is not easy to forecast such things, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) estimates that the COVID-19 impact during this cold weather season will be comparable to last winter, and Flu and RSV cold weather epidemics will probably be typical of pre-pandemic cold seasons.”
So covid looms, an innocuous beast with the other seasonal regulars. Damned to the ranks of the common chest cold and flu.
And the question remains. What now?