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Commentary: What do we do now?

by Steve Harrison

I don’t know about you but I’m having a hard time dealing with this latest COVID surge. In the past it seemed important to follow all the COVID rules in order to take care of others and take care of ourselves, but now I find myself aggravated, irritated, and claustrophobic. It’s been two years, enough already. I’m sure I’m feeling this time around the way many felt during the first phase of the pandemic.

After doing all the things we are supposed to do — shots, social distance, isolation, masks, avoiding crowds — it feels we have no more a handle on things than we did. Many months ago the COURIER ran a number of articles on what people thought the future would look like. No one predicted it would look the same in 2022 as it did in 2019. Most people who voiced an opinion thought COVID would recede like the Flu epidemic of 1919. Perhaps this is true, but we are still in the midst of COVID’s recession. Vaccinated people are much less likely to enter the hospital, let alone die. The transmission rate seems to be soaring, but grave illness isn’t. Science has informed us a lot; we no longer wipe down groceries or worry about wearing a mask while out for our morning walks or runs.

Yet listening to the news makes it all seem just as, if not more, dire than it was two years ago. I can’t help but think back to my article on crisis culture. It seems that we are not given a lot of clarity by the media these days. Perhaps it’s because of developing science around this disease; that certainly is understandable; something new is going to take a while to figure out. Listening to broadcasts last week where rates are soaring and hospitalization is spiking upward at alarming rates, listening to dire warnings about how easy Omicron is to catch, it is very easy to lose perspective. If vaccinated and not dealing with underlying health conditions, Omicron is most likely going to result in sniffles and at worst feel like a bad flu.

So here I sit wondering about how careful I need to be. In the best of times I would do all I could to keep from catching a cold or the flu. While teaching I caught everything: mumps twice (yeah, I know, I thought you could get it only once too), H1N1 flu, chickenpox (never had them as a kid), and more colds than I care to count. If I was teaching now, I feel sure that I would have had some kind of experience with one of the COVIDs. Since retiring, I have had few bouts of any kind of illness (knock wood), and I don’t want this one.

I’m not finding reports on Omicron particularly helpful. How many of the people testing positive are feeling ill? How many are testing because of travel, work, or school mandates and are surprised they are positive? How many hospitalized people are suffering Omicron or Delta or the original virus? Does it matter? More than a few times I’ve heard people say, including some healthcare professionals not on You-tube, “sooner or later we will all be exposed and test positive.”

This is part of my frustration now. Do I risk a severe symptomatic case by eating in a restaurant? Was I being overly cautious to cancel my New Year’s Eve plans? Is it possible I’ve already been positive and not known? The runny nose that I have had this last week may have been more than allergies. I don’t want to be so self-centered that the only reason I’m careful is so that I won’t get sick. I still feel obligated to mask up (KN95 apparently the only viable option) and keep my distance. I even went back to ordering groceries via Instacart. I did this so that I wouldn’t get sick but also so I wouldn’t pass something on to others.

None of this “thoughtful analysis” helps with my frustration in finding myself not knowing what to do. Part of me just wants to “not look up.” It would be so much easier.

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