Dec 19 2021

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

by at 1:51 pm under Uncategorized

It’s back, though it never really went away. I retired the title of today’s blog six months ago because we were back at work, and the contours of pre-pandemic life were increasingly visible through the fog. But that title is making what I hope will be a one-time and final guest appearance. As COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths rise around the country and here in our backyard, we face the specter of our recent past — but like a dream, it resembles but will not replicate our past reality.

I have seen the new reality up close. Nine of my close family members, all either vaccinated or too young to be vaccinated, spent parts of the last month dealing with COVID-19. While nobody was ever in danger of hospitalization, it was not fun, and it disrupted their lives. For those of us who are vaccinated, we can expect more of the same. Once the Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain, it seems increasingly likely that many of us will experience the same fate. As only 1 in 6 Americans have received boosters, many of those who have been vaccinated can clearly improve their chances of having an uncomplicated infection, or even to avoid infection. Please get a booster if you have not yet done so.

Some of our unvaccinated, and potentially unmasked, neighbors will escape this winter unscathed, but many will be infected, some will get very sick, and too many will die. The majority of those deaths will have been preventable, but at this point I frankly don’t know what more evidence people need to help them make the obvious decisions to protect themselves from a severe illness and possible death.

In the early stages of this pandemic, I was haunted by the photo of a man wearing a T-shirt that proudly stated, “My freedom is more important than your safety.” That mean-spirited homage to Ayn Rand proved prophetic, as unvaccinated people are viral reservoirs that place everyone — irrespective of vaccination status — at risk. The cruel irony of this supremely selfish attitude is its inevitable corollary logo: “My freedom is apparently more important than my own safety.” Strip away the political and cultural battles that have shaped such statements, and we’re left with what amounts to a willingness to die an avoidable death in order to make a rather small point. Why?

So, we conclude a year that in some ways was more challenging and difficult than 2020. Despite the fear of the unknown, we were in the health equivalent of a shooting war in 2020, and a sense of battlefield camaraderie and high emotion sustained many of us. 2021 started off with such promise, as vaccines became available and many of us, including me, felt as if we had turned the corner. Little did we know we were in a maze, with no end yet in clear sight. More Americans have died of COVID in 2021 than in 2020. At least half of those 2021 deaths could have been prevented by vaccines. Imagine that.

America is in a bad mood. Hospitals, doctors and nurses are nearing their breaking points — again. People are tired of the drama, and want to be left alone to get on with their lives. Many have reconsidered what is important to them, contributing to the Great Resignation. Looking back on the year, it was more of a slog, with fits and starts of quasi-normalcy, ending with people stocking up on home testing kits and masks. Deja vu all over again.

Or is it? Heading into 2022, we know so much more than we did in 2020. We know that commonsense measures such as masking and social distancing can reduce viral transmission. We can reliably test for the virus and its variants, and vaccines can prevent or minimize the impact of infections, saving countless lives in the process. We have a suite of lifesaving, clinically proven tools that minimize or limit the impacts of severe COVID-19 induced illnesses. Enough of us have been or will be fully immunized so that viral exposure or clinically apparent infections will cause no more than temporary inconveniences. The Omicron variant is highly infectious, but can be fairly well controlled by vaccinations and boosters. As I mentioned before, I think Omicron is the first step in how this pandemic begins to evolve into an endemic illness.

It will be interesting to see what 2022 brings. With luck, we can keep work, schools and commerce moving, albeit with the implementation of flexible, commonsense rules that, like an accordion, relax and contract as needed to allow all of us to live our best lives. Just because we can’t yet let down our guards doesn’t mean we can’t keep moving forward.

This is my last blog for 2021. I wish you happy and very safe holidays. May 2022 be filled with happiness, health, the actual end of the pandemic, and important work that helps us to end cancer as we know it.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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