"If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
It’s October, 1942. Eleven months ago, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, America declared war on Japan and soon introduced a series of domestic rationing measures and economic restrictions.
Clothing and many basic foods are strictly rationed as critical goods are diverted to the armed forces. The production of household appliances is banned. Each family’s allowance of just three gallons of gasoline per week limits unessential travel. New home building is prohibited, forcing many families to live in cramped quarters.
Laborers, including former retirees and women whose husbands are in the military work long hours to meet wartime supply quotas. Prices and wages are controlled while most people’s taxes are rising.
Everyone is feeling the pinch and beginning to rebel against the restrictions on their “freedoms.” They’re saying, “I’m sick of this stupid war. I want my son/husband/boyfriend to come home. I want to eat anything I choose and travel whenever I feel like it. Who cares if Hitler takes over England? What’s that got to do with me? Why don’t we just stop fighting and go back to normal?”
Of course, people said nothing of the sort. The “greatest generation” buckled down, knowing that it would take years of sacrifice on everyone’s part to win the war — and they would never stop fighting. They rallied to the cause, joined the Civilian Defense Corp, bought war bonds, grew Victory Gardens.
Because of their sacrifices we now live in the wealthiest — and arguably the freest — country on earth. But like them, we find that some of our freedoms are curbed, our lifestyles cramped. That’s because for the past 11 months we have been at war with our own implacable enemy, the virus that causes COVID-19.
But unlike our predecessors in the dark days of early 1942, when America was sustaining major military losses and the outcome of the war was uncertain, we can see our way to victory, probably in about a year, when we’ve reached herd immunity through vaccination. And frankly, the sacrifices asked of us to hold back the enemy — limiting our social gatherings and wearing masks in pubic — are negligible compared to those willingly undertaken during the war years.
Yet we hear that formerly compliant people are suffering from “pandemic fatigue,” and beginning to defy the government’s guidelines by gathering without masks and ignoring other public health proscriptions. In a way this is understandable — we all miss important aspects of our pre-pandemic lives. And with the end of this pandemic in sight, it’s tempting to drop our guards.
Tempting, that is, until we realize that we are in the midst of what is by far the largest and most dangerous surge in U.S. COVID-19 cases and deaths since the pandemic began. In the week that spanned January 1, there were an average of 212,925 confirmed new cases per day, and on December 30 alone there were 3,808 deaths from the disease.
Our country is saturated with coronavirus, so the odds that you’ll be exposed and infected are greater than ever. Additionally, there’s a new, 70% more infectious strain of the virus that further increases everyone’s chances of getting COVID-19. (The new strain is not more lethal, just more infectious — which means there will be even more cases, more deaths.)
So, no matter how weary we are of the pandemic, this is no time to risk unnecessary exposure. And in case you know someone who needs a pep talk to keep fighting the virus, tell them to think of it this way: “If you get COVID-19, you’ll greatly increase the odds of giving it to someone you love.”
Philip S. Wenz writes about environmental issues and related topics. Contact him through his blog at Firebird Journal (firebirdjournal.com).