Pandemic Reflections: The Omicron Edition

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I did not think that in January of 2022 that I would still be writing pandemic reflections. Now, I’m beginning to wonder when pandemic reflections will be a thing of the past. Right now, I wonder who else I will learn has COVID when I open Facebook each day (perhaps opening Facebook is my mistake!). I keep hearing Omicron is milder but we’ve never had so many in the hospitals where I live. Right now, over 700 are dying each week in my state. Tests are hard to get. I suspect there are far more infections than those recorded on our state’s dashboard.

Against this backdrop, it is hard for me to hear talk about “new normals” and “I’ve got to live my life.” When schools scramble to get teachers in the classroom and bus drivers to get the children there, when restaurants close because all their servers are sick, when sports teams cancel big games because of “protocols,” this hardly seems normal and I wonder what kind of life we are trying to live when it requires a lot of people to get sick for us to live it, or equally when it requires us to get sick. This all sounds off to me, somehow. It makes me wonder what “living my life” means.

For me it has meant a two year respite from getting on airplanes. It’s meant growing closer to my wife who is my bubble-mate! It’s meant treasuring those times when we have gathered with others. It’s meant working on our home. It’s meant near daily neighborhood walks, glorious sunsets, changing seasons, and getting to know people along the route. So many of my work years have meant getting on a plane or jumping into a rental car for a trip and I haven’t met many of the people in our community beyond my immediate neighbors. I’ve participated in virtual pilgrimages with people from all over the country–times to walk, and meditate on scripture, to listen to stories, and to pray. I’ve written nearly 600 blogs, engaged in hundreds of online conversations, worked with over 30 talented writers in my work, hosted online conversations with a variety of authors and online book groups, and read a few good books along the way (actually more than a few!). I’ve enjoyed plein air painting with my wife and a group of artists in good weather, and actually felt I improved. While I can think of things I wish we could do, I’ve lived, and I think lived well these past years. I even weigh five pounds less than at the beginning of the pandemic (not much, but I’ll take it!).

And by God’s grace, we’ve remained healthy. I don’t presume it will continue when I hear reports saying nearly everyone will catch this latest variant. But neither am I going to run out, plunge into a big, maskless crowd and “get it over with.” That’s the vibe I get as I listen to the media. When I talk to friends our age (late 60’s), we feel like the tornado sirens are blaring and right now we are going to our safe place until the storm of this latest wave blows through. We’re getting good at this. We’ve had a lot of practice and many of us have found the richness of life on the other side of “safe at home.”

Here’s how we look at it. No illness is “milder” when you get older. It takes longer for anything from a cut to a cold or the flu to heal. Even if our vaccinations and booster mean we don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, that can still be pretty sick. And it is a crapshoot when it comes to after effects. And getting exposed and sick adds to the strain on testing, on our primary care docs, pharmacists, and if we get sicker, a host of others at a time they are all being pressed to the wall. As far as it depends on us, we’ll try to avoid becoming another case.

What’s hard is that as you get older, it is easy not to think of yourself in that way, especially when you see the world around you trying to get back to “normal” in the middle of a wave. It’s easy to start questioning whether you are too cautious. It helps to have other older friends who tell you that you are not nuts.

So for the time, we do takeout. We shop early, and only as necessary, don’t linger, and wear at least a KN95 mask. We won’t do any indoor, unmasked gatherings with a significant group of people. Perhaps for the next few weeks at least, no indoor gatherings outside our bubble.

We don’t take talk of things “levelling off” or “lessening” at face value. We watch infection rates as a rough benchmark. At one time in our state, our governor wanted to get below 50 infected out of 100,000 (1 out of 2,000) over a two week period (and we actually got down to 19.2 per 100,000 last summer). Today the rate in our state is 1818.8 per 100,000 (nearly 2 out of 100) infected in the last two weeks (and because of test shortages, that number is probably low). That means in a group of 50, at least one person is probably infectious. That feels to me that we are amid a storm.

When it was a few hundred cases per 100,000 we did discretionary shopping, and some indoor dining at off hours. Probably, we’ll wait to see things go below 100 per 100,000 to go back to “normal,” perhaps with an Omicron booster.

At the end of the day, I realize there is no sure thing about any of this. The choices we make, we do so out of prudence (God never invites us needlessly to imperil our health or life) and love for each other. My choices affect my wife, other loved ones, and indeed a wider community. But they finally do not make us invulnerable. I live each day grateful for this day’s life (something the pandemic has taught me that is itself a gift). As a Christ-follower, I do believe that someday I will rest in peace with Christ and be raised with him in glory. So I act, not out of fear but rather as one who both lives in hope and cherishes each day of life. I’ve also learned with this pandemic this wisdom of James 5: 15 which says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ ” It seems that any predictions of what this virus will do are folly, and the best we can do is say, “if it is the Lord’s will.”

This reflection is neither an argument or judgement on other choices. Some of the choices we’ve made, we realize, are not possible for others. It is simply a reflection of how we are thinking and acting at this stage of the pandemic. If it’s helpful to someone else, I’m glad, and if you see things differently, I have no interest in a quarrel. We have to get through this thing together, so a fight is counter-productive. I suspect whenever this relents, we’ll all have a lot of sorting out to do, and who knows but that we may end up helping each other–or at least forgiving each other the unkind judgements we have made upon one another.

12 thoughts on “Pandemic Reflections: The Omicron Edition

  1. I discussed this with a good friend yesterday. She has totally remodeled her shop to add plastic partitions, only accepts customers by appointment, all wear masks. Basically one customer in the shop at a time and she cleans up thoroughly when that customer leaves. Things have gone rolling along. Now in the past month dozens of customers are cancelling appointments at the last minute, all with the Omicron virus. I pray this goes away soon.

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  2. One thing I noticed, Bob, is that you and Marilyn have “privilege” that others don’t–those who have children in schools, those who must work in schools or hospitals or grocery stores or nursing homes, those who have to make choices about their health and their children’s that you are able to avoid. However, I’m glad you could read and paint, and as retirees ourselves, we also have privilege to escape the worst decisions.

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    • Yes, that is true. The best I can do that I know is to use my privilege to protect others who do work in these places and to do all I can to reserve scarce medical resources for those who need them. I feel for families with children in schools-we were all there and had years of being constantly sick, though not in a pandemic.

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  3. Bob, I wonder if there ever was a time for normal, one to which I’d like to return. Which war period was normal … WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan? Which generation was normal … the Silent, the Baby Boomers, Woodstock, X,Y or Z? What economic condition was normal … Great Depression, Recession, Inflation? Was the period of yellow fever, small pox, Spanish flu, polio, HIV-AIDS, SARS, normal? I’m beginning to think I must learn to live for today, yet hope that tomorrow will be better, but not necessarily more normal. BTW: I do like the term “bubble-mate.” Without mine, I doubt if I could have survived the last 60 plus years, which were seldom “normal!”

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    • Pat, you make a good point. Someone has said that the only constant is change. Many of us don’t like change–want life to be as it was. I wonder if we look for that quiet, stable center in our past rather than within. I’ve wondered whether the pandemic has exposed our lack of spiritual resources to face change and even crisis, yet these are what enable us to grow with the changes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In some cases, my family members and I have experienced the phenomenon of spiritual leaders implying that concern about the pandemic is not needed or stating that it is a “hoax”. What happened to our “better angels of our nature”?
        A rhetorical question: is personal comfort and convenience more important than public health.?

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    • I heard a teacher lamenting that her second graders have never known a year of “normal” school. My first thought was yes, they have, it’s just that your version of normal is a 2019 version. A version second graders have absolutely no concept of, so their 2021 version feels perfectly normal to them.

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      • Oh, completely agree on remote learning. Remote learning for second graders should probably never be normalized. I should have clarified that schools in my area are all in person with no options for remote learning, so kids are in classrooms just in a different way than what the teacher is accustomed to.

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      • Yes, even in-person is different, and faces disruptions when there are exposure notifications, absences. This will be the “normal” for a time. But change is the only constant, one that kids may handle better than teachers!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s wise right now to stay home if possible, particularly for older adults or those who fall into highly vulnerable categories. I am fortunately not in that position and so have done what I can to support my school district by continuing to substitute teach as much as possible. I made it two weeks post holiday break before falling victim to the Omicron, which so far has followed the text book pattern of a mild case. I’m grateful for that, too, and am looking forward to being back out there once I am fully recovered, a lot less vulnerable and able to continue supporting those who are not as fortunate. We will see ourselves to the other side of this, but it’s certainly been a slog.

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