Once again, people are worried about COVID. Case counts are on the rise. Early optimism around the existing vaccines being efficacious against the new delta and epsilon variants have fizzled as “breakthrough” cases, infections in the vaccinated, are become more common, if not the norm in some places. Yet, life goes on.

It is true that the reinstated mask mandates, which in practice seem more recommendations even those places that were once far more strict, like California and New York, harken right back to March and April of 2020. Back then, governors thought a few weeks of lockdowns could “flatten the curve” and allow life to go back to normal. With the hindsight of this past year, whatever the future danger may be, we are at least the wiser to such fantasies.

What is the same as before is that a certain sense of security, that was once restored, is yet again falling away. Surely, case counts will continue to go up for some time, and some will urge masks and social distancing, while others have already and will continue to send their employees back home. Markets may be impacted the news. Supply chains, hardly recovered in many cases, may be disrupted again. Panic will swell. Many I’ve spoken to in the last few days have said these words: deja vu. Yet, this time also seems different.

The will of people, businesses, and politicians to lock us all down seems to be negligible. At last, it seems up to the individual to decide how they want to proceed. Masks may theoretically still mandated on the New York City Subway but so many people lack them that I’m not even sure, and there’s clearly zero enforcement of that. I don’t expect much enforcement of anything. Those who are worried about getting sick are wearing masks, and those who are less worried are not.

We also have science to be optimistic about. It’s frankly no surprise that the virus has out-mutated the original COVID vaccines. After all, they were developed at the very beginning of this pandemic, and out-evolving vaccines is precisely how natural selection works for viruses. But if we could make the first vaccine in a weekend, we can make the delta and epsilon boosters in another weekend. And at the very least, the existing vaccines provide some level of protection and pull down the threshold for herd immunity. This time, all is not glum.

I hope that by now we have learned that life must go on. I will happily be the first in line for a delta epsilon booster — they should call it that, because it sounds sort of a rocket ship. I am not and almost certainly never will be a billionaire, or an astronaut, so that’s the closest I’ll ever get to space. But until then, I expect that this time won’t be 2020 all over again.

That is despite the media and politicians making their best bid at an encore. What has not changed is that the media benefits from scaring people, and politicians are benefitting from polarizing people. It may take longer to cure our health system’s infection by politicians and media pundits than the pandemic itself.

In pursuit of magic