A great scourge has descended upon the land, leaving in its wake a path of misery and girlfriends shivering under blankets. Crops have been destroyed, and there are times when (after 5 p.m.) it can seem like we might never see the sun again. Yet the greatest terror ushered in by this darkness is its plague, a relentless onslaught of mild coughs and sniffly noses that seems to have left just about everyone feeling marginally annoyed.

The ancients had a word for it, winter, and it's eliciting trembles of horror from the Cassandras over at the...

A great scourge has descended upon the land, leaving in its wake a path of misery and girlfriends shivering under blankets. Crops have been destroyed, and there are times when (after 5 p.m.) it can seem like we might never see the sun again. Yet the greatest terror ushered in by this darkness is its plague, a relentless onslaught of mild coughs and sniffly noses that seems to have left just about everyone feeling marginally annoyed.

The ancients had a word for it, winter, and it’s eliciting trembles of horror from the Cassandras over at the New York Times. New Yorkers, the Times recently croaked, “are living not just among the coronavirus and its seemingly endless variants, but a bunch of other viruses too.” This “bunch” includes such baffling ailments as the common cold and the flu. One man interviewed by the Times “has been walking around town with a stuffy nose and a mysterious cough that keeps clattering in his lungs.”

Why any of this would suddenly happen just as the weather is getting cold remains a medical mystery. Yet thankfully the Times has a theory:

Although city officials have been recommending that New Yorkers wear masks in indoor public spaces, few are heeding that call. School attendance remains relatively high too, though it dipped a little recently. Restaurants and coffee shops are busy, and offices show no signs of closing. People are still going out to movies, music venues and cocktail bars.

Cocktail bars. The unmitigated gall of people thinking they can just go to cocktail bars is enough to make you think we don’t deserve Dr. Fauci. Yet surely it’s no surprise that the Times is struggling with this. For everyone else, this is set to be a season of joy and gratitude. Not only is it almost Christmas, it’s the first winter since 2019 when Covid isn’t an issue, and for those of us who caught the Omicron last winter, it couldn’t be more welcome. No canceled holiday parties; no wondering what the eggnog really tastes like. And unlike Europeans, we Americans didn’t foolishly shut down our nuclear plants and gas storage facilities, making us reliant on Russian exports. Heating this year might be expensive but it’s still on and running.

For the Covid regime’s loyal subjects, such normalcy simply won’t do. Hence the attempt to extend the 2020-era climate of fear over other, more common illnesses. Or as the Washington Post wishfully put it, “Face masks may return amid holiday ‘tripledemic’ of Covid, flu and RSV.” And hey, I get it. I came down with the RSV back in November, after my one-year-old son smuggled it home. (No one tells you that 90 percent of parenting is battling the same cold over and over while you try to get children’s songs out of your head, but that’s for another day.) Worse, my RSV later mutated into a sinus infection. It took three weeks, a diagnosis of “your son did you dirty” from my wonderful doctor, and days of antibiotics to feel better.

But then that’s just how it goes. You know why? Because it’s winter. RSV can be a frightening illness, especially in children who can develop breathing problems. But then RSV cases and hospitalizations have been dropping over the past month, leading experts to believe that it’s peaked. Covid cases, meanwhile, are rising, as everyone expected they would in the cold months. But it’s still nothing compared to the spikes we saw in the winters of 2020 and (especially) 2021.

That leaves just influenza on the Karenite three-legged stool — and admittedly this is expected to be a bad flu season, perhaps the worst since 2009 when the swine flu struck. But then no one was suggesting thirteen years ago that we should all mask up and board up shop. One reason the flu may be so rampant this year is because it all but vanished during Covid. People stayed inside and away from each other, protecting themselves but also preventing them from developing influenza immunity. As the CDC noted back in October, “Reduced population immunity, particularly among young children who may never have had flu exposure or been vaccinated, could bring about a robust return of flu.”

So how brilliant that the CDC is now recommending we all mask up again! Masking and social distancing made us more vulnerable to the flu, so better strap back on the latex. Never mind that the science on whether masks actually prevent influenza (and Covid) is shaky at best. What we really need is another dark winter of covered faces, social isolation, impersonal communication, slowly snowballing feelings of glumness, alcoholism, anomie, and white yuppies performatively offloading their risk onto the Uber Eats drivers who drop off their Sweetgreen — all in the name of public health.

There’s even a campaign on Twitter, which has trended more than once, called #BringBackMasks. And some have heeded the call. The Philadelphia public school system just announced that masks will be required for at least ten days after winter break. It may be harder now to make hypochondria the stuff of official policy, but some of us are damn well going to try.

Yet for most, the untenable social contract that prevailed over the last three years is dead. There will be neither a “pandemic amnesty,” as the Atlantic recently suggested, nor (unfortunately) accountability for those who stunted our children’s learning during the pandemic. The reason is that no one wants to look back to those days. They’re done. Over. What’s needed now is a return to life as it’s meant to be lived, even if it means such shocking indulgences as a trip to the cocktail bar.