The Omicron variant may only be “mild” for people who have been vaccinated and where the hospitals aren’t turning people away yet. Maybe we’re done with the virus, but it’s not done with us.
It’s Christmas morning as I write this, and the second holiday season to be overshadowed by the coronavirus. The only indications that there’s an ongoing public health emergency, though, are the growing infection numbers, and the exhaustion, disgust, and burnout radiating hotly from the medical community. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget. Seeing people, even friends who should know better, posting about their family visits, going to concerts and plays, eating in restaurants, despite a serious chance of catching the virus, is surreal. Maybe the notion that the Omicron variant is supposed to be relatively mild contributes to that devil-may-care, carpe diem attitude. Maybe they’re just tired of the restrictions and want life to get back to normal, maybe they have given up and figure they may as well get sick and get it over with.
By the time this posts, they may well have gotten their wish. The Omicron variant is far more transmissible than prior versions of the virus, and can more easily evade the protection provided by vaccination. Hospitals around the world are overwhelmed with the Omicron surge. It may not even be as mild as early rumors made it out to be. In South Africa, where Omicron was first detected and reported, most of the victims were younger and stronger, and many had some resistance from previous infections. The same variant hitting older, less healthy populations in the United States may not provoke such a mild response, and even if it does, the sheer number of infected people is likely to result in a fresh wave of suffering and death.
Part of the problem is that people in the United States have largely forgotten that “mild” illnesses may only be survivable with actual medical treatment. Overwhelmed and understaffed hospitals are at the tipping point of having to turn patients away and ration care (again). What may have been a survivable bout of COVID may not have the same outcome at home.
Short staffing is increasingly attributable to burnout. A year or more ago, doctors and nurses were hailed as heroes, and having the public’s support made it marginally easier to face the day and heal the sick. Nowadays, not so much. Death threats, violence, and assault (sometimes reported anonymously to avoid a second helping of abuse from sick patients who still believe COVID is a hoax, or from family members demanding useless treatments) are chasing professionals out of healthcare along with PTSD from watching so many die over the past year, as well as fatalities from the virus itself.
Full hospitals turning the sick away, people dying at home of a “mild” case of COVID, viral misinformation, death threats, feral visitors punching doctors in the face and spraying nurses with virus-spittle… it doesn’t have to be this way. The price of those who want to forget is paid by those who can’t get away from it.
And it’s all made worse by politics. Because there are Americans so far gone ’round the bend that they boo’ed their once-beloved leader when he admitted that he’d gotten a booster shot. Imagine being so devoted to the ideology of “owning the libs” that someone would be willing to sacrifice their loved ones, their country, even their own life, to score points for their side. The disparity in vaccination numbers between our two major political sides is stark, and with fatalities falling disproportionately among the unvaccinated, losing even a small number of voters in swing districts could make a real difference for Team Red for years to come.
The failure of so many on the political right to take personal responsibility for their families and communities by masking up, staying home, distancing, and yes, getting vaccinated, is likely to turn this year’s Christmas gatherings and services into a massive human sacrifice to an ideology and a virus which, together, seem to have overtaken even their love for God, Country, and Family. Whether or not they consider a visit to Grandma’s house in those terms, the real-world effects haven’t gone unmentioned by the White House. In a shockingly-worded press briefing, the Biden Administration laid it out in plain language one hopes that every American can understand:
Our vaccines work against Omicron, especially for people who get booster shots when they are eligible. If you are vaccinated, you could test positive. But if you do get COVID, your case will likely be asymptomatic or mild.
We are intent on not letting Omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You’ve done the right thing, and we will get through this.
For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.
The virus isn’t done with us yet, even if so many are done with it.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Related: Destroying the Country to Save It