fifth wave

Well, Guess It’s About Time to Get COVID

The new variant is making its presence felt in New York City and elsewhere. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Omicron is here in full force, and it sure doesn’t seem to care much whether you’ve been following best pandemic practices. COVID cases are spiking among the presumably vaccinated at colleges, in sports leagues — and, anecdotally at least, among the general (tweeting) New York population:

Suddenly this exceedingly transmissible variant (in combination with its forebear Delta) has arrived at our door with a pistol in its hand to inform us that the jig is finally up. And right now, the only reasonable response seems to be a sheepish, “What took you so long?”

There’s suddenly a strange inevitability to the whole thing. But almost two years after the pandemic began sweeping through America, we live in a vaccine and booster-saturated world. So now, that inevitability is mingling with an aw-shucks fatalism — or maybe it’s just realism. If you’ve been a quarantining, mask-wearing, vaccine-and-booster-getting member of society and have avoided COVID, you’ve really done about the best that can be expected of you throughout these long 19 months. Thanks to your sense of civic responsibility and a hefty dose of socioeconomic luck, you’ve outwitted a highly contagious virus only to be confronted with a far more contagious version of it — even more so than Delta, which was already causing its share of breakthrough cases. You may not evade the coronavirus altogether — a possibility that seemed more likely a few weeks ago, even if it was perhaps always unrealistic — but you’ve likely done enough that its effect on you will be attenuated. Beyond going back to the kind of extreme measures that most people reasonably gave up post-vaccine, there’s not much more you can do from a personal-risk standpoint. Personally speaking, there’s something weirdly liberating about that.

It goes without saying that millions upon millions of cases could be very bad news, particularly for the unvaccinated and older people who have not received a booster shot. Hospitals already at a breaking point are likely to be pushed even further. Children 5 and under still aren’t eligible for vaccinations at all, and there’s always the threat of long COVID. That Omicron seems almost impossible to control is not an excuse to give up on exercising caution, particularly when vulnerable people are in the mix. And it’s not like the current status quo of 1,000-plus dead per day on top of 800,000 is great to begin with.

But so far, the vaccine-plus-booster regime appears effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths. And early reports indicating that Omicron is causing less severe disease than Delta may well say as much about the immunity that vaccines have helped confer as about a diminished virulence of the strain. All along, we’ve been told that the virus would probably become endemic and that we’d better get used to living with it permanently. The reward for living cautiously most of the last two years, waiting for science to do its thing, is that if and when COVID finally comes for us, it’s a less formidable foe. It’s easier to accept your virus fate when you’re not so damn scared of it anymore.

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Well, Guess It’s About Time to Get COVID