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‘No, Like, Everyone Has COVID Right Now’

The Atlantic logo The Atlantic 12/17/2021 Kaitlyn Tiffany
© Getty; The Atlantic

“If you live in New York City and you don’t have COVID right now, um,” one TikTok user said before pausing and tucking her hair behind her ears. “You’re lying.” Serena Kerrigan, a New York–based influencer who refers to herself as “Samantha Jones IRL,” in reference to the Sex and the City character, filmed herself reclining in bed, muttering “gorgeous gorgeous girls have COVID,” and then, “No, like, everyone has COVID right now.”

The TikTok trend of the moment: video collages of iMessage screenshots from friend after friend delivering news such as “Meh I got exposed to COVID” and “I know like 10 kids from that party with covid,” set to background music as varied as Adele’s latest single and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” Everyone in New York has COVID, and everyone agrees, even though they know that is not literally true. And this seemed to happen in just one weekend. “I thought everyone wasn’t getting coron but now everyone is having coron,” the painter and Manhattan personality Sam McKinniss tweeted on Tuesday. Personally, I do have the coronavirus. Even as I’m typing up this story, in isolation, I have it. I think I got it last Friday night in Queens, but who can say?

According to The New York Times, the city’s daily average for positive test results has more than doubled in the past two weeks. There were 4,523 new cases on Wednesday—a daily caseload of the sort the city hasn’t seen since February 2021, long before the majority of adults were vaccinated. Tweets and TikToks about winding lines at testing sites are back, and “it’s giving March 2020” again in New York.

Except, it isn’t. A lot of things are different. Most notably, again, most of New York City is vaccinated, and has good protection against the worst possible outcomes of the coronavirus. When I asked Brendan Carr, the chair of emergency medicine for the Mount Sinai Health System, to describe the mood on the ground, he had mixed feelings. “Frankly, hope and optimism,” he told me. “The people that we’re seeing are mildly ill.” So far, it seems that vaccines are holding up against the Omicron variant, at least when it comes to protecting people from severe illness. “There’s the lingering fear of ‘What if we’re wrong?’” he added. After all, it’s only been a couple of weeks since Thanksgiving, and the expected holiday case surge has only just started. “Optimism, fear, and then fatigue would be the third,” he summarized.  


Video: COVID Surging In New York, Around Nation (CBS New York)

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Mayor Bill de Blasio also struck a careful note in a press conference held in Prospect Park yesterday afternoon. “It is clear that the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force,” he said. “We need to be aggressive.” He emphasized and then re-emphasized that New Yorkers should get their booster shots immediately. He announced that the city would be expanding its testing capacity and distributing 1 million free KN95 masks. “We are the safest place in America when it comes to COVID,” he said.

In August, when the Delta variant gave newly vaccinated New Yorkers pause about going about their business, the online consensus held that the “vibes” were “off,” and that “hot vax summer” had been a fleeting dream. Now there’s a similar mood but a greater variety of feeling: surprise that things could turn so quickly, and also sheepishness over the fact that anyone is still surprised by anything at all; despair, and also mania. We’re seeing an uncomfortable collision of “snow day” and “apocalypse,” of real anger and goofy, misplaced anger—particularly anger directed at people who, this past weekend, attended a notoriously embarrassing holiday event during which thousands of people dress up in festive fast fashion and terrorize lower Manhattan with a day-long pub crawl. (Everyone already hates the attendees of Santa Con, so why not call them the bringers of Omicron?)

[Read: Yes, make coronavirus jokes]

There are also a lot of bleak jokes, just like there were the first time the coronavirus battered New York, and the second time, and the third time. The latest meme in my timeline shows two Sex and the City characters, labeled “Moderna dose 1+2” and “Booster,” beating up a person running around the 116th Street subway station in a haunted-doll costume, labeled “severe illness or death.” (Bleak, but sort of cheering?) New York magazine has already run two quippy stories about this moment, one with the headline “Well, Guess It’s About Time to Get COVID,” and the other looking to coin the term the Media Variant, citing anecdotal reports of mild coronavirus cases ripping through New York Twitter social circles soon after various media-company holiday parties. The latter ends with the article’s author revealing that he himself has tested positive, but his tone is hard to read. Is it somber? Or a little proud? His admission comes amid a list of cool events he was invited to, and he’d already quoted the writer Jamie Lauren Keiles’s tongue-in-cheek tweet that “everyone who is anyone has covid right now.” Obviously, you could ask the same questions about my earlier admission of my own positive test!

As ever, this week is a good reminder that people who live in New York City are freaks. They will claw some humor—and an excuse to talk about themselves—out of any situation.

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