Can’t we just go back to normal now?!
A: Not yet. Slowing the spread is still important.
TL;DR: Delaying infections buys time for improved treatments, more vaccinations, and protects health care availability for all.
We hear your frustrations. Tensions are high as Omicron screamed through our social networks and ruined a lot of holidays. We’ve all sacrificed so much. This is not how any of us pictured our 2022.
There have been many turning points during this endless pandemic, but this moment feels different. For a few days it felt like almost everyone we knew had COVID-19. Disruptions due to illness or exposure/quarantine touched almost everyone. Even this Nerdy Girl felt at a loss for words the past couple of weeks watching the Omicron numbers go vertical so quickly.
Is the moment we finally “live” with the new reality of the virus and go back to business as usual? How much longer can this vigilance go on, especially for the vaccinated?
We TRULY sympathize with ALL of these big feelings. This is exhausting. But there are good reasons to still make efforts to avoid infection both individually and collectively. While it’s likely everyone will be exposed to COVID-19 within a timeframe of years, even with Omicron that’s still not inevitable within the next few weeks or months.
WHY is avoiding infection still a good idea? A (non-exhaustive) list:
1). 💥Overwhelmed health care systems are bad for everyone💥
This one is obvious, but important. A tsunami of infections is much harder to handle than smaller waves or even a steady stream. This is happening NOW, with hospitals delaying surgeries and turning away patients in need of care for cancer, car accidents, heart attacks and more. Our health care providers are *begging* us to help slow the spread.
2.) 💥We can STILL do better on vaccinations.💥
We know it seems that everyone who WANTS to be vaccinated should have had the opportunity, but there are still real barriers for some, and we are making progress on first doses each day. We shouldn’t give up on them. The US is also way behind other countries in booster doses which are looking more critical for Omicron. We also are nowhere near the endgame of learning about how to *best* use vaccines —in the long run we have much more to learn about optimal dosing, combinations of vaccines, updating for variants, etc. Buying more time to optimize this MOST effective lifesaving tool and to get shots into arms locally and globally is huge.
3) 💥Effective new treatments are ramping up.💥
We’ve gotten good news about treatments such as the new antiviral Paxlovid. BUT–these are currently in short supply, which should change in a matter of weeks/months. If you DO get infected, wouldn’t you want the opportunity for a prescription that dramatically slows virus replication? Delaying infections means a better chance of effective treatments that keep people out of the hospital, including those vaccinated but still at risk for serious disease.
4) 💥COVID illness is not benign.💥
We are thrilled that Omicron *may* cause less severe disease. But there is a lot we still don’t know about repeated “hits” of this virus to the human body. It’s too soon to equate COVID to a cold. Vaccination seems to decrease but not eliminate the risk of Long Covid. On the scale of hundreds of millions of infections, this may lead to a lot of disability and suffering which could be prevented through improved vaccines and treatments. For a recent touching account of a rough course of COVID even in a young, vaccinated person, read this story from Dr. Raven the Science Maven & the account of our own Nerdy Girl in Chief Dr. Ashley Ritter.
5) 💥We still have vulnerable people to protect, including our very oldest and youngest.💥
While it’s easy (for some) to dismiss the unvaccinated as unworthy of sympathy if they get sick, there are still many who can’t control their vulnerability to infection or disease. This includes the millions of Americans with compromised immunity who can’t mount a full response to the vaccine. Children under age 5 not yet eligible for shots. Older people, even fully vaccinated, will likely always face a higher risk from COVID-19 as they do from the flu or other infectious diseases, but the level of this incremental risk depends on all our actions. The antivirals and treatments coming onboard will be particularly important for these groups.
⬇️ BOTTOM LINE:
It’s SO tempting (and we’ve ALL been there), but it is *not* time to throw up our hands. We still need to balance both individual risk and social responsibility.
❓What CAN I do?
➡️ During this massive surge, your chances of being exposed to COVID-19 anywhere are not trivial. Reducing any marginal opportunity for transmission can help a lot, so now is the time to feel comfortable cancelling plans and staying home if possible. See recent post.
Outside of the acute Omicron crisis, we don’t want people to stop “living their lives.” Kids and adults alike need real human social contact. But in our “new normal” of COVID-19, precautions *need not* be all or nothing. Every little bit helps.
⬇️ In the wise words of science writer Ed Yong:
“The infectious nature of a virus means that a tiny bad decision can cause exponential harm, but also that a tiny wise decision can do exponential good.”
This New Year, make some “tiny wise decisions” that pack an exponential punch:
⭐ If you’re feeling sick, stay home, and get tested if possible.
⭐ Wear a well-fitting mask (KF94/KN95/etc.) while in (public) indoor spaces.
⭐ Mind the Air- socialize outdoors if possible & ventilate indoor spaces.
These measures don’t mean that society is closed. Masks, ventilation & staying home if infectious ARE “learning to live” with COVID.
We’ve seen how quickly the COVID landscape can change, so also remember this current moment won’t last forever.
As always, we’ll be right here with you to sift through the science *and* the uncomfortable feelings.
Those Nerdy Girls