The Real Long COVID

“All of the Zoomers that work for me are bisexual, and all of them have long COVID. I’ll believe long COVID is real when someone who is not bisexual has it.”

Who, curious reader, dropped that provocatively un-PC conflation? The now-ex Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson? A click-chasing conservative loudmouth? Maybe your AM-radio binging uncle who wears a “Let’s Go Brandon!” t-shirt to Thanksgiving?

All good, cancellable guesses, but nowhere near the mark. The offender was Sean McElwee, the bespectacled, number-crunching founder of Data for Progress. McElwee’s firm is one of a handful of policy-setters consulted by the Biden White House. And, despite his strident leftist convictions, even McElwee doesn’t buy into the self-diagnosed phenomenon known as “long COVID,” linking it with boutique sexual attraction.

(The identitarian mob has yet to come for McElwee’s cubic head, which is a fine-point demonstration of leftist hypocrisy. You know what they say: if libs didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards at all.)

The medical jury’s still out on whether long COVID is a legitimate condition, or an easy excuse for chronically tired millennials who spend too many nights up late envy-scrolling Instagram. (My uncredentialled opinion: in the battle between legitimate illness and millennial neuroticism, assume the latter is the actual malady.)

COVID-19 itself is all but gone—when’s the last time you heard of someone sick from it? But the lasting effects of the all-out COVID war are still with us. And they aren’t just the hypochondriacs shuffling around Walmart with N95s sewed to their maws.

A study released last winter revealed that pandemic-enforced school closures resulted in 35% “learning loss” for children across the world. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that “[n]ine-year-olds lost the equivalent of two decades of progress in math and reading” while elementary and middle school students saw general math competency decline in every state but one. Another study indicated schoolchildren have less confidence in face-to-face interaction after stewing in “remote classrooms,” e.g. their kitchens, for two-plus years.

But all that’s just abstract data aggregation, splashed across worrisome headlines. There’s no concreteness to it, because, by their nature, large-scale measurements elide individual experience. We know children across the globe suffered socially from the isolating puncture of non-association dictates. And of course students fell behind on learning—”remote” instruction is ersatz pedagogy. One nonprofit research firm estimates three million kids “vanished” from schools during the deadliest course of the pandemic. Obviously, children don’t literally spontaneously combust from being kept inside over long stretches (figuratively is another eardrum-splitting story.) Still, the large data-derived figure makes for a clicky hook, like an “Unsolved Mysteries” episode about a serial child abductor.

That’s all easy to forget in May 2023 AC (After COVID), with summer fast approaching. Whatever learning gap that was opened during COVID has to have narrowed by now, right? Aren’t all kids back learning their multiplication tables and why Rosa Parks is a more patriotic American than George Washington by this point? No school still mandates mask and silent lunch periods—a few hypochondriatic Montessori schools notwithstanding. The Sino-compromised World Health Organization just downgraded COVID down from a “global emergency.” Aren’t we past the pandemic fallout?

Not yet. Case in personal point: my oldest child.

A few weeks ago, my youngest brought a special gift home from daycare that wasn’t yet another paper plate with her painted palmprint on it: hand, foot, and mouth disease. Her temperature spiked for two straight days while tiny lesions sprouted on her knuckles and chin. Basic grubby toddler in a disease petri-dish stuff.

I schlepped my wailing leper to the perfunctory pediatrician visit, only to be told no antibiotics could purge the virus. (Thanks medical-industrial complex! You can give us a therapeutic to curb COVID’s worst symptoms in eight months but can’t fashion a balm for irritating blisters? Seems legit.) Upon being reminded how contagious HFMD is, I asked about the chance her older sister would catch it. The doctor shrugged it off: “she probably already had it.”

Now it was my turn to play Dr. Gregory House. I had to remind a medical professional of the once-in-a-century lockdown-demic that kept my oldest out of disease gauntlet of daycare for years. “Oh, that’s a good point,” the doc admitted. A good point! Maybe point enough for an honorary MD? I didn’t quip that—I’m still working on my dad-joke routine—but it did give me a brief sense of intellectual superiority.

Sure enough, a day later my oldest became leper #2 in our house. Naturally, she missed a few days of school, right when my former sick-day companion Jerry Springer embarked for daytime-TV heaven. Normally, a few days of missed word-blend and penny-sum packets is a brush off. But she was supposed to participate in her school’s spring concert and sing the kiddie hymn “Arkeology.” (Get it? The study of Noah’s Ark!?) She had been practicing the lyrics and two-step, hand-waving choreography for a month. Of course she couldn’t go to school on the day of her performance, to which she asked, “Will I get to sing it another time?” That innocent inquiry caused my heart to snap. Telling her “no” was depressingly infuriating. It also wasn’t the first time she lost out on a special school activity due to sickness. Earlier this year, she missed Valentine’s Day, with the ritual of exchanging drug-store cartoon cards with her classmates, as well as St. Patrick’s Day, where I assume her teacher spikes the kids’ juice boxes with Baileys and downs a pint or six of Guinness at lunch.

Practically speaking, nothing major was missed. She didn’t have to delay any necessary medical operations or fail an entrance exam to the Ivy-League track. But she missed out on childhood rituals that, while she may not remember clearly, we would have recorded on iPhone video to fondly watch years later. Those recollections, the small remembrances of growing old, children maturing, the passing seasons, are the stuff of life. And now the opportunity to bank those memories is gone. (Don’t shed a tear too fast, sensitive reader! Being a sentimental magpie, I saved all the Valentines her classmates got her. They’ll be displayed on our living-room bookshelf every February until I’m carted off to Shady Acres.)

My daughter missed these irretrievable holidays not just because she was ill, which is an unlucky break, but because her immune system avoided the germ crucible early on. She was actually due to start daycare in April 2020, but that was, of course, delayed indefinitely. If you’re able to recall during those first few heady weeks of COVID-craziness, medical experts were openly speculating that that virus was deadlier for children than adults. That theory was quickly debunked, yet we were admonished to keep our kids home for months, then told to keep their developing mouth muscles clasped behind useless cloth masks for over a year.

My wife and I said nuts to that, and did the round-robin babysitter-at-home routine until we found a private school that didn’t require masks or re-enact Jim Crow segregation in kindergarten.

Meanwhile, lockdown-insisters like Dr. Fauci and chief American Federation of Teachers thugress Randi Weingarten insist they had no hand in keeping a generation of children isolated, shut out, and muzzled.

Dr. Fauci owes my daughter a Valentine. And he should be shackled to a wall and forced to watch her sing 🎶“IT’S ARKEOLOGY!”🎶 over and over until he bleeds from the ears. Those who sacrificed the childhood of millions during the pandemic need to do some sanity sacrificing themselves.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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