Covid Downturn

I haven’t posted about the covid-19 pandemic in a while because the situation slowly seemed to be easing, as more people got vaccinated and received the booster shot that’s now recommended six months afterward. Then came December, and Omicron.

The Omicron variant of the virus is spreading like misinformation. Epidemiologists are still deciding whether this new variant causes as severe a case of the disease as the earlier versions. But they are all agreed on one thing: It’s way, way more contagious. You may remember hearing that the Delta variant spreads much more easily than the earlier forms. That was true. But Omicron is TWICE as contagious as Delta. As if that’s not enough, it seems to be more resistant to the vaccine, though being vaccinated does seem to dramatically reduce the severity of cases.

Here in the U.S., the number of people infected picked up just as schools were about to close down for winter break. But I know of two universities that shut down early because of it and sent everyone home. Cornell had 900 cases among its students. 900! Some K-12 school systems are going back to virtual learning. So far, JMU, where my son is a sophomore, has not seen a huge spike in cases. I expect that’s still to come.

And not just at JMU. Cases numbers throughout the country will, no doubt, rise dramatically in January, as all the people who traveled, gathered, and partied irresponsibly over the holidays head back to their normal lives — and neighbors, and office mates — and begin to show symptoms.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Get the vaccine. I repeat: Get the damn vaccine. If you have been vaccinated at least six months ago, get the booster. Beyond that, wear a mask in indoor spaces with people you don’t live with. And outdoors, if you’re in a crowd. Yes, this is stricter than the CDC guidelines, which still say it’s OK to gather inside without masks, if everyone is vaccinated, and outdoors without masks, as well. But the CDC guidelines need to be updated to reflect the new reality of Omicron. I went to a small indoor gathering last week (seven of us, all vaccinated), but that was before the numbers shot up. I’m not sure I would make the same choice now.

What else can you do? If you’re not vaccinated, stay the heck at home. Don’t socialize with anyone who doesn’t live in your household. If you must be around other people, like at the grocery store or at work, wear a mask. And forget about going to movies or basketball games or any other noncritical events. This means no airports, too. Nonessential travel should be off the table entirely for anyone who has not been vaccinated.

Even if you are vaccinated, consider limiting or completely avoiding all of that. If you weigh the risks and decide to travel, be smart about it. Stick to small groups rather than large ones. Don’t bring along unvaccinated people or visit unvaccinated people. If you want a restaurant meal, bring it home or eat it outside. And wear a mask — a good, N95-type mask, if possible — in high-risk areas such as airports.

The other action that is being widely recommended for everyone before gathering with others — vaccinated or not — is to get a covid test. Yes, this is a terrific idea. Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible. The city testing sites have no available time slots. The drugstores are all out. Home tests are sold out everywhere, even the free ones the city was passing out at libraries are all gone. I wanted to make sure my husband, son, and I were tested this week before my mom arrives. I would have preferred the more accurate test, the one with results in a day or so. But I can’t find any places with openings for those tests this week. Same with the rapid test, which isn’t as accurate but gives results in under a half-hour.

I have a home testing kit at home, but it has two rapid tests, not three, so we can’t all use it. I’m waiting until tomorrow, so results will be more accurate as of when my mother arrives the next day. I think Jon Morgan and I will use those tests. I’m hoping Bob can get himself tested at work tomorrow.

It’s very much like last year, when tests were in such short supply that even people with symptoms and doctor’s orders couldn’t get one. We had made so much progress, and now here we are again.

I know two teenagers who came down with covid this week. Youth is no guarantee. Neither is vaccination status. Both were vaccinated. We all need to take reasonable precautions and stop acting as if this is just the common cold. More than 5 million people have died of this. In this country, we’ve surpassed 800,000 dead. And millions more have suffered debilitating symptoms.

I am just so tired.

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