OPINION: The omicron blues. The unwanted Christmas present

Omicron cases surging in Georgia, giving worry to many ahead of Christmas holiday
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Omicron cases surging in Georgia, giving worry to many ahead of Christmas holiday

A meme circulating on social media reminds us that the movie ”Soylent Green” was set in the year 2022.

The 1973 thriller depicted an apocalyptic world where cannibalism had become a solution. Upon hearing the Soylent Green references, those of us old enough to remember simply shrugged and said, “It figures.”

As we now enter the third year of the pandemic, a COVID-fatigued population teeters between bouts of dread, fatigue and resignation, tempered somewhat by a collective dose of gallows humor. There’s also a shared feeling of “Not again!” as we experience the newest wave. We always expected another wave (is this the sixth?). And then another. But darned if this doesn’t get exhausting.

It was just a month ago — November 26 — when we first heard the term omicron as anything other than part of a sorority or frat’s name. Now it’s omicron, omicron, omicron all the time as the American public slowly learns the Greek alphabet, one COVID outbreak at a time. Atlanta’s hometown airline is no doubt pleased to see that the variant has moved on from its brand name, although it’s disheartening that the omicron strain was announced by health officials the same week that airline travel had nearly (and finally) reached its 2019 peaks.

Now here we are again — worried and indecisive about whether we should fly to Uncle Bob’s for Christmas. The Torpy family will be three seats short at the dinner table this holiday season, including one for a son who came down with COVID a few days ago. (He’ll be fine.)

It is amazing, the speed of the newest variant. The CDC estimated last week that about 95% of the new cases in Georgia and seven other Southern states were omicron, up from 37% the week prior.

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211216-Atlanta-Covid safety messages greet holiday travelers in the A concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

211216-Atlanta-Covid safety messages greet holiday travelers in the A concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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211216-Atlanta-Covid safety messages greet holiday travelers in the A concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The terms being used to describe the new aggressive variant are “wildfire, blizzard and tsunami” because journalists cut their teeth writing weather stories and embrace the familiar when cranking on deadline. The newest mutation is faster spreading than the older versions but was originally said to be milder. Then it wasn’t. And now recent studies from Britain and South Africa say it is. BUT. The downside (there always seems to be a downside with these things) is that it may be milder but will hit more people and still stack up the emergency rooms.

Outgoing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a new mandate saying masks must be worn inside all public buildings in the city, including private businesses. Gov. Brian Kemp, for his part, “struck an optimistic tone” when asked about the variant saying, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, it may not be as potent as delta.

Cable news channels will need to hustle because they have just a week to pit Kemp v. Bottoms. Back during the harried days of 2020 they were a perfectly matched TV rivals, one Black, Dem and citified, the other white, Republican and from the farm. What cable producer could ask for more?

Incoming Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens jumped into the fray Monday, announcing he had come down with COVID. (Bottoms contracted it last summer). Dickens said his symptoms are mild, before advising, “Get tested. Wear masks. And get vaccinated.”

Almost immediately, photos started popping up online of Dickens running around town before his diagnosis ― indoors — without his face covered. The message was he’s a do-as-I-say,-not-as-I-do kind of guy.

But you must cut the Mayor-Elect some slack. He’s a busy guy, out and about. And no matter how guarded, how fanatically pro-mask you are, few people can continue that early-pandemic COVID-fighting momentum through these many, many months, especially when we’ve already eased up, thinking vaccines would return us to the good old days of 2019.

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Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, right, speaks at Morehouse School of Medicine before her mother, Sylvia Robinson, center, receives the first of two Moderna Covid-19 vaccines Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Bottoms is waiting to get her vaccine until first responders receive their shots. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, right, speaks at Morehouse School of Medicine before her mother, Sylvia Robinson, center, receives the first of two Moderna Covid-19 vaccines Tuesday, January 5, 2021.  Bottoms is waiting to get her vaccine until first responders receive their shots. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, right, speaks at Morehouse School of Medicine before her mother, Sylvia Robinson, center, receives the first of two Moderna Covid-19 vaccines Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Bottoms is waiting to get her vaccine until first responders receive their shots. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

There’s just absolutely no way to continue the numbing sense of dread, the isolation, the closing and reopening of businesses and schools. We all know what we have to do to beat it down — mask, vax, distance. But it’s just like we all know how to lose weight. Actually doing it is often a different thing.

Being preventative, of course, is better than being reactive.

The benefits of getting vaccinated are widely known, how it beats down the threat of hospitalization and even death. This week, a doctor at the Gainesville hospital told the AJC that 87% of the COVID patients there had not been vaccinated and the percentage of the unvaccinated often approaches 100% in the critical care units. We all hear frequently hear statistics like that but I expect to get caustic emails in the next few days calling me a “Sheeple” for mentioning it.

Just 51% of Georgians are fully vaccinated, with only five states having lower rates. (The U.S. is 62%.)

But the idea of gearing up for yet another wave is demoralizing. We thought we had our lives back, had gotten back to mingling with others, the holiday season is here, etc. And now this.

I’m probably like many others. I carry masks in all my coats, pants, vehicle and throw them on when going into a store. But I’ve walked up to places, seen the guys behind the counter not wearing them and said, “Screw it. Why bother?” like at the tire store the other day. We all have an internal risk assessment and can no longer hide in our rooms.

It has become apparent we’re all going to get it, although it behooves us to push off that inevitability for months or even years into the future when treatments get better, hospitals are less full or population immunity improves.

It’s time to be smart, shoulder on, get the damn vax and look forward to a time when our lives — again — will be normal. That’s coming, one of these years.

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