I’m so sick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion at this point. It’s been almost two years of lockdowns, protocols, testing, and panic. In that time, millions have gotten sick and thousands have died. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that kind of loss. We can’t hope to understand what it’s like for those suffering this terrible illness or the pain their families feel when they lose someone.
It doesn’t matter what you’re politics are or how much you hate mask requirements. This pandemic has been a disaster wrapped with multiple layers of tragedy. Even though we have better treatments and multiple vaccines, it’s still raging. It’s unavoidable that more people will suffer and die.
To make matters worse, we were on the path to ending this pandemic. There was a brief period during the summer when it looked like it was over. We had beaten this virus and everything could go back to normal. Then, a variant emerged and the disease came roaring back. It certainly didn’t help that assholes, frauds, grifters, and liars got people killed by convincing one too many people to not get the vaccine.
We’re all getting a painful lesson in biology and evolution. Sadly, some of the idiots and assholes who are behind the denialism and conspiracy theories don’t even believe in evolution. That’s a problem because it’s still very real, especially in viruses.
From an evolutionary perspective, the old saying of what kills you makes you stronger is bullshit, at least with respect to viruses. It would be more accurate to say that what doesn’t kill you mutates, adapts, and tris again. Give it one too many opportunities and it will succeed. Viruses don’t care about your politics, your beliefs, or your nationality. They’re just microscopic terminators whose sole purpose is to infect and propagate.
Now, thanks to all the hesitancy and the undermining of public health, the COVID-19 virus is getting way more opportunities than it should’ve. It mutated once before to become more infectious. Recently, we learned that it has mutated again into a new variant. It’s called the Omicron Variant. It’s no a Transformer. It’s potentially a very dangerous turn for this disease that has already caused so much suffering.
While a part of me is tempted to panic, I think it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective. It’s not helpful to assume the worst or the best. Hell, that’s a big part of what made this pandemic so devastating in the first place. At most, we should be concerned about this new variant.
I’m certainly no expert and I have no business predicting how bad this new variant will be. I’m also aware that there are many mixed messages coming from various media outlets, many of which are not reliable. So, in the interest of offering some information with as little bias as possible, here is a brief piece about what we currently know about this variant from NPR.
The World Health Organization announced Friday that it deems this strain, B.1.1.529, a variant of concern, and has named it omicron. It’s the first new variant of concern since delta.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that no cases of omicron have been identified to date in the U.S., but that the agency has surveillance systems in place and it expects the variant will be identified quickly if it emerges in the U.S.
Here’s what we know so far about the new variant — and what we don’t.
The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges have been, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants.
The WHO says that the detection of the variant in South Africa coincided with a steep increase in cases there and that its prevalence is increasing in almost all provinces of the country. The variant has caused a particularly sharp rise in cases in the city of Pretoria, where it went from being essentially undetectable several weeks ago to now dominating the outbreak in a major city. Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.
Why is it spreading so fast?
Scientists don’t know yet, but they believe it has to do with the variant’s mutations. “This variant has a large number of mutations. And those mutations have some worrying characteristics,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, in a video statement. Scientists say the variant has a number of mutations that are known to boost transmissibility and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily.
Still, scientists caution that there isn’t enough data yet to know for sure whether that’s the case.
What about the vaccines? Are there any signs the vaccine will be less effective against this variant?
There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it and that there there could be a higher risk of reinfections.
But in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said: “Let me be clear, there is no data at the present time to indicate that the current vaccines would not work.”
The concern here is based on the fact that some of omicron’s mutations are ones that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system — to resist antibodies and avoid detection by some of the body’s front-line defenders.
But again, scientists don’t have enough data to say for sure.
I bolded that last sentence. That’s an important detail to remember. We just don’t know all the facts yet about this variant. As a result, people are going to make assumptions and asshole grifters will try to fill in those gaps with their agenda. I know it’s tempting to latch onto whatever information feels right, but that’s exactly why you should make the effort.
Don’t make too many assumptions.
Don’t get sucked into conspiracies, hashtags, and social media trends.
Wait for people who actually study viruses for a living to provide accurate information. Then, you can decide for yourself how much or how little you should worry.
In the meantime, and I’ll keep belaboring this for as long as I have to, get vaccinated! It’s because not enough people have gotten vaccinated that we’re in this situation. The longer we hesitate, the more opportunities we’ll give to this virus. Eventually, it’ll evolve to a point where we can’t fight it and we’ll be right back at square one or worse.
I don’t want that.
You don’t want that.
Nobody wants that.
This world has suffered enough from this pandemic. The best thing you can do is not make crazy assumptions before we know more about this variant and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. We can still end this pandemic, but only if we’re willing to adapt.
If we don’t, then the virus will. That is the only assumption we can safely make.