What if…

It’s elusive, perhaps illusory. There’s no tree if no one sees it, so how can it fall? There’s no data if no-one will collect it.

“His short term memory has got really bad all of a sudden.”

“I just can’t find the word sometimes.”

“She’s so tired all the time.”

“I keep getting sick.”

“We just can’t find the staff.”

“I never used to be like this.”

Does it seem to you as though things are a bit harder for everyone? As though there are more crises… deeper struggles… more tears?

Imagine if there was a disease that became endemic. A virus that was unavoidable, that everyone gets, over and over. And imagine if that virus, if it didn’t prove fatal, stole just a little every time. A bit of energy here. A bit of immune function there. A bit of cognitive function somewhere else. Imagine what the impact of that might be on society, on workplaces, on people. Then look around you. What do you see? Do you see a new level of struggle? Of systems, and people, cracking under the strain? Maybe there’s a reason!

I see a pattern. I don’t have data – because as far as I can tell no-one is looking for it. I could be wrong. But the short term memory struggles. The aphasia where I can’t quite think of the right word, even common words, rather more often than you’d expect. The breathlessness, the struggle to get fit again. Well. I’m over 50. I’ve got a lot going on. It’s to be expected, really.

But what if it’s not? What if it is, in fact, this virus that is stealing pieces of us, sometimes subtly, sometimes with violent force? What if the precautions we have forgotten to take – masking in crowds, fixing the air flow and air filtering in workplaces and public spaces – could have saved us? Could still save us from further damage.

What if we could measure who we were then, and who we are now, and quantify the pieces we’ve lost? What if those of us who are still covid cautious, who are warning against the dangers of this forgotten predator… what if we’re right?

What if we could collect the data, with blood tests, and mris, and longitudinal studies? It would take a long time to get proof. But we know the consequences of covid can be severe, even with vaccination. What if we collected the data but also took precautions?

What if we mandated better indoor air quality? Doesn’t sound like a terrible thing.

What if we encouraged masking in crowds?

What if we monitored the air quality and warned people when it was less safe?

What if we actually took the threat seriously? What’s the downside?

Earlier this year I had a powerful and horrifying conversation with Professor Margaret Hellard of the Burnet Institute and Dr Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute about the covid data we’re not collecting, and things have only deteriorated since then. We want to “get back to normal”. But sticking our heads in the sand and trying to pretend this isn’t happening is no solution.

It’s a little surreal, focusing on the dangers of covid in a world that is cheerfully oblivious. It feels like those of us who think it’s still a problem are Cassandras, doomed to speak the truth and never be believed. But the impact of long covid is real, and it might be vastly more prevalent than we can see, because we’re simply not looking.

Surely it’s time to stop pretending and get real.

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