Itching to Know? What Cicadas and Oak Mites Can Teach Us About Politics and COVID

Thirty-four years ago my daughter Emily was graduating from the McLean Children’s Academy in the Virginia suburb of D.C. of the same name. The ceremony took place in the backyard of the modest clapboard house that had served as her preschool for two years. About fifteen four-year-olds dressed in their Sunday best were lined up ready to perform for their adoring parents, many of whom were wielding video cameras to capture the event for posterity.

The only problem was that the ground was littered with cicadas, both dead and alive. As she welcomed us and previewed the program, the school’s director kept swatting out of her hair and off her shoulders the large brown prehistoric looking creatures dropping from the trees. The kids began with a barely audible song, drowned out by the mating sounds of the thousands of cicadas swarming on this and neighboring properties. When we received the complimentary video of the event a few weeks later, my husband and I burst into laughter at the Monty Pythonesque quality of the event.

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

This year, two seventeen year cicada cycles later, Brood X emerged in the DelMarVa. I live in New York City now, but my friend Donna regaled me with tales of her dog ingesting and then regurgitating cicadas, a party trick my dog had also mastered way back when. I remember the Washington Post articles that encouraged people to think creatively about cicadas, perhaps viewing them as a delicacy, and, say, coating them with chocolate or stir frying them. Points for trying to turn lemons into lemonade, but … NO THANK YOU.

Now, it appears as if having finally gotten rid of the adult cicadas, Donna and thousands of others in the D.C. area are contending with their larvae. It seems as if the billions of eggs that the cicadas laid on oak leaves became an all-you-can-eat buffet for a microscopic insect called an oak mite. After stuffing themselves with cicada eggs, they drop from the trees onto unsuspecting passersby, whom they proceed to treat as dessert. Dermatologists have been overrun with patients exhibiting itchy welts, pustules and assorted other symptoms from the bug bites, which most of them have never seen before. Fearing bedbugs or fleas, lots of scratching homeowners are calling pest companies only to be told that there is nothing to be done but wait it out.

It’s easy to make jokes about the cicada emergence as a plague of locusts visited upon us by a God determined to show unbelievers his power, and to interpret the oak mites as an “I told you so, but you didn’t listen.” But this year we had a different more deadly plague to contend with. By definition a plague needs to affect several countries at once with disastrous consequences, and COVID certainly qualifies.

Just as vaccinated folks in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast began to emerge from our coronavirus induced plague of over a year of working from home, virtual schooling, endless Amazon deliveries and postponed travel, the microscopic and unwelcome Delta variant showed up. Feeding primarily on the unvaccinated among us, it finds a home in those of us vaccinated as well, creating a “breakthrough infection.” I and many of my friends are itching, not from oak mites but from a burning resentment at this turn of events. COVID is telling all of us through the Delta variant, “I told you to get vaccinated, but you didn’t listen.” And lots of my fellow Americans are still not listening.

According to Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yong’s article in the Atlantic, it’s now just as impossible to exterminate the coronavirus as it is to get rid of the oak mites, however much we may be itching to do so. And that’s because 20 to 30% of our fellow citizens refuse to be vaccinated, a majority of them also refusing to wear a mask or practice social distancing. Their reasons range from the religious (God will protect me) to the conspiratorial (Bill Gates has put chips into the vaccine) to simple delusion (I’m young and healthy so it won’t kill me).

The meta plague is the ecosphere of disinformation enabling these views. It’s hard to know how to counter the politicization of medical information. Conservative “thought leaders” are modern-day snake oil salesmen, who, like the cicadas that drowned out the voices of those McLean Children’s Academy graduates, are spoiling our chance to celebrate together, to “graduate” from the pandemic.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When people are more inclined to trust Donald Trump than Anthony Fauci, or are ready to listen to the rantings of Tucker Carlson instead of the pleadings of their local ER docs, or are doing their “research” on FaceBook rather than consulting their family physician, I just don’t know how to get through to them. Maybe if the virus particles were as big as the cicadas it would be harder to pretend that the threat was overblown.

Some antivaxxers may be sincere — if in my view misguided. But just as the oak mites hop onto passersby whether Christian or not, Republican or not, pro-government or not, healthy or immuno-compromised, the Delta virus and its spawn will do the same. We can laugh looking back at my daughter’s preschool graduation and the plague of cicadas that will forever be associated with it. No deaths occurred. No longterm harm was done. I can’t say the same about the current plague of influencers stoking resistance to vaccination. Their propagation of misinformation, distrust and division is a harbinger of much worse to come. I’m afraid their their legacy won’t be funny family videos or itchy welts, and there’s no way to sugar coat the harm they are doing.

28 thoughts on “Itching to Know? What Cicadas and Oak Mites Can Teach Us About Politics and COVID”

  1. One of the things that scalds me is that last year these idiots were screaming about how unfair it was to have to wear masks and distance from each other in social situations. Now their prima-donna, ignorance-embracing bullshit philosophy means we all get to continue doing that. It means some schools won’t open. Lots of stupid-ass expensive lawsuits are proceeding, all when the solution is so simple. I had lunch with a friend recently who isn’t vaccinated. When she explained why I thought, ‘I’m not sure you want to reveal to me the depth of your idiocy, but too late now.’ At times I think they’d rather have attention than immunity.

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      1. I didn’t know until we sat down to lunch together. I’ve cut her out along with two others. Her reason? Her two best friends talked her out of it and she didn’t want to lose their friendship. I thought, “Uh, with friends like that?”

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      2. Absolutely. And now she has lost yours. This, like so many issues in our politics, is dividing us into us and them. I really wonder how we will ever overcome so much cultural dissonance.

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      3. That’s my concern every single day. It makes me anxious, sad, gives me migraines, makes me feel alienated and has created a tiny island out of my small house and yard. Where once I wandered around my town with my dogs and talked to everyone, now I don’t. Most of the time, I feel a combination of disbelief and contempt. But, then, people have always been pretty stupid and gullible. I just wasn’t compelled to see it for myself. 😦

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      4. Yep. I don’t want those people to have pushed me into becoming someone I do not want to be. It’s one thing to fight for one’s life by being vaccinated (now) and careful (2020) but one’s soul is at least as important.

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  2. It is hard being so disappointed in our fellow citizen’s continuing ignorant responses. And disappointment leads to my frustration which leads to anger. And we have good reason (reason is the operative word) to be afraid of the consequences of their choices, which leads to disappointment, which leads to..anger. And there we are angry. Which is not going to change anybody’s minds. Arguing with black and white toddler mind is pointless. Those people who justify their reasons for remaining unvaccinated are also motivated by fear which leads to…their own anger. Anger vs.anger is not a solution. What is? I have no simple answers but I do know that burning anger in my own body is not healthy for me. I am not in a position within my retirement community to interact with many who do not believe in keeping themselves and others healthy from contracting COVID, or to change their minds through listening and discussion. I am not in a position of political power to influence lawmakers and policy communicators, other than making a phone call or sending an email to those who represent my district and my state. I can only remain strong in my own center of calm and keep adding hope to the resilience of humanity to face into the crises we are creating. I choose to remain grateful that I am so far well and I remain strong in hope for our planet and my grandchildren (even with cicada strewn graduations). And it is work to hold my sorrow and hope, and to observe destruction and creation playing out side by side. Thanks for writing this blog.

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    1. I too am grateful that I am well, and hope that being physically fit even if I am an old crone will do me some good in staving off a breakthrough disaster. I am just so aware of the stealing of time for joy that this pandemic has wrought; my poor Dan spent his last year plus on this earth unable to live outside the walls of our apartment. I’m so much more in touch with the fragility of life now, and a big part of my resentment revolves around wishing to make the most of my life in Dan’s honor — seeing art, traveling, doing all the things we loved and thereby living for both of us. Time is precious. And it is being stolen by people’s inability to face reality. My second heartbreak is fear for my grandchildren. Their lives are impacted, too — even if they don’t catch the virus. Poor Raymond didn’t meet any of his mother’s relatives until June, and I worry so much about Vince catching the virus at school. So much of this was preventable if we could all just come together and do the right thing. I suppose I am angry — in actuality it just feels like more grieving, of which I already have enough.

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  3. Great analogy. Last time around for the cicadas, I lived in NW DC. Those bugs were literally everywhere. I find it surprising that this is the first time I’ve heard of the Oak Mite. Regarding the antivaxxers, I think they are complete idiots and I fault them for putting others at a higher risk of contracting the disease, especially children who can’t get vaxxed. But something that’s been bugging me for months is that since breakthrough infections are fairly common, won’t the virus simply mutate allowing it to coexist with those vaccines? I think we’re really up against a highly creative virus here. The Covid epidemic is going to be the longest of long hauls.

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    1. Yes. The Delta variant is not the last. And each one will be better at evading our immune system. That’s part of the reason this is just so frustrating. Each person catching COVID is an incubator for the next/worse variant.

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  4. My only hope is that delta dropped quickly out of India and England– for reasons we still don’t understand. Maybe we will get lucky too — despite the dumb trying to pull us all down.

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    1. Yes, crabs in a barrel as the saying goes. It is a puzzle that Delta fizzled in India and the UK. So far, no signs of that here though. My biggest worry is the next variant — one that has figured out how to suppress the proteins that the MrNA vaccines activate. I think part of my fear comes from having learned too much about this kind of thing because of Dan’s cancer, which was the result of the HPV virus. His immunotherapy regimen worked …. until it didn’t. The trial vaccine worked, until it didn’t. These damn viruses are tricky motherfuckers.

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  5. Great analogy. I’ll NEVER understand the reasons why some choose ignorance. Sadly, someone close to me refuses it. I spent several hours, unknowingly, with a friend who tested positive two days after our get together. She’s fully vaccinated. So am I. My test was negative, yet I have many symptoms. What should I do? I stay AWAY and quarantine. It’s common sense and care for others. Mutations will keep
    multiplying with this madness.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t seem to decide if I’m bewildered, angry or annoyed by those not vaccinated. Many said they thought it was “a hoax”  then they pivoted to it being “unsafe” until it was FDA approved (by a government they don’t trust). These are the same people who don’t blink an eye when they have to immunize their dogs and cats. Seriously, I sat as someone said they couldn’t risk taking their dog to the dog park without it being fully vaccinated. I thought my head might explode. There are so many things I could say about this, but not out loud. This was a wonderful post. Thank you. 

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    1. Right! And suddenly once admitted to the hospital it’s 100 per cent trust in experimental treatments. The vaccine is based on technology that researchers have been working in for 20 years; that was part of the reason it came online so quickly.

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  7. Wonderfully said and nice analogy, Trish. Fortunately, I have not had any direct confrontations with anti-vaxxers in this epidemic. My friends, family and acquaintances are all jabbed. It’s probably not going to get better here in the U.S. How many people still think we could have “won” in Afghanistan? Talk about delusional.

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    1. Yup. New OpEd in the LA Times from a COVID doc talks about her and her colleagues “compassion fatigue” as they treat new seriously ill patients, all of them unvaccinated. It’s just mind boggling. I feel like these people are the equivalent of the flat earthers of earlier times. And I also agree on Afghanistan.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m a patient person in general, but I’ve lost of patience for the selfish and ignorant among us who prolong the suffering of so many by refusing to be vaccinated. I’ve always felt that we progressives are compassionate, inclusive and forgiving, but now I wonder if those traits aren’t a detriment in this Brave New World because we haven’t been harsh enough toward those endangering us, them, and everyone.

    Methinks if the the anti-vaxxers’ ignorance hit them in their pocketbooks – e.g., all medical care for treatment for the Covid-19 bug they catch and suffer from is paid out-of-pocket by them, insurance treating it as an exception because they refuse the vaccination – we’d see compliance to vaccination and mask mandates rather than their ridiculous protests.

    One up side: for this introvert, the current Covid-19 vaccination culture war has made life easier in terms of figuring out on whom I want to spend my precious energy socializing with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. We can tell pretty quickly who is worth our time and who isn’t now. For me, it began with voting for Trump but now it also includes failing to get vexed. And I also agree that in this culture, money talks, and the economic pain hasn’t been inflicted on those who are counting on the rest of us to carry their water.

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