Collier’s Weekly: New Year, New Variant, Same Frustration

We knew that COVID wasn’t going anywhere. The mental impact as we enter a third calendar year is still hard to handle.
Robinson Rial 165


I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

Anyone who was paying attention to the hard facts of the pandemic knew, intellectually, that the fight against COVID-19 would be a long one. We knew that variants would emerge. We also knew that getting everyone vaccinated, fighting against the dual titans of logistics and ignorance, would be a challenge.

Understandably, though, we gave ourselves over to hope, time and time again. When the bulk of adults got their shots and case numbers began to plummet, we started forgetting our masks now and then. We retreated a bit due to the Delta variant, but when that wave peaked, we at least counted on an uninterrupted holiday season.

About that.

The spread of Omicron, the most easily transmitted member of the sinister COVID family, combined with winter-avoidant indoor activities to send infections skyrocketing. Nationwide, we’re experiencing our highest daily case counts ever; in Allegheny County, we’re discovering life as a hotspot. I know half a dozen folks personally who are dealing with the virus right now, and everyone I know can say the same about their own circles.

I can’t think of anyone whose holiday celebration went on as planned.

It seems that optimism and pessimism are available in equal quantities at the moment. Those who prefer to stay positive can easily point to the fact that Omicron is far less severe in vaccinated individuals or note the quick speed of this surge in other countries; you can make a scientifically sound argument that this burst should burn out in a few weeks. Those seasoned against too much hope, however, can easily counter that Omicron will only presage the natural selection of a new strain, possibly one that combines transmissibility with more severe effects.

I think, though, that neither notes of hope nor dismay are the right approach at this juncture.

Instead, I’d offer a reminder: You are strong enough to keep pushing through this.

We’ve endured so much over the last two years — for most of us, great personal loss included. Exhaustion is inevitable, particularly if you’re dealing with the pandemic’s insidious side effects: job uncertainty, childcare challenges, mental-health struggles. It has, to put it too simply, been a lot.

Yet we handled all that, and we can handle this too.

We can go back to fastidiously masking up. Yes, it was lovely to open our faces to the world for a few months, but we’ve done this before; we can easily go back to masking. Despite the cries and complaints of those with staggeringly weak constitutions, wearing a mask is not much of a burden. You can handle it.

We can also cope with once again evaluating which activities seem safe and which do not. I know: We had gotten used to not having to judge the airflow and crowd space in every shop and restaurant. It’s a pain to have to do that again. But you did it for more than a year; you know how it goes. Be prepared to pivot with your plans, go to places you trust; when in doubt, order take-out.

You can handle all of this. I promise.

At some point — not suddenly, but achingly gradually — COVID-19 will indeed become an endemic disease in the background of our consciousness. Someday, we’ll get our annual COVID shot like we get our annual flu shot and that will be about it. We’ll get there.

We’re not there yet. But you can handle it. We’ve all gotten tougher these past two years; you’re strong enough to keep up your guard and soldier on.

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