The world is going into its second consecutive year of surviving the trauma that is COVID-19 and its cousins, Delta and Omicron.
Omicron is the newest family member to arrive at the cookout and did not come empty-handed. Epidemiologists suggest that Omicron is highly contagious and can be easily spread, hence the recent surge in emergency rooms across the country. “The rate of which Omicron has taken over Delta is remarkable,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. David Wohl.
As the World Health Organization (WHO), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scrambled to gain more information into what impact the latest covid mutation would have on the population, Americans were determined to gather loved ones around the hearth and dining room table for the holidays.
After a more than stressful 18 months of being held captive by COVID-19, and for some, cooped up indoors without participating in what was once normal everyday activities, the holiday season means enjoying all those things again with the ones you love.
NEW YEAR CONSENSUS
Now, as New Year’s Eve approaches and 2022 is ushered in around the world, the consensus on Omicron is that while it may not be as deadly as its predecessors, it is highly transmissible and presents a substantial risk for those with health disparities such as diabetes, heart and lung disease, and cancer.
On Monday the CDC and other medical experts warned the public to forgo New Years celebrations in crowds, air travel, and large indoor gatherings and parties, and hinted at a basic mask mandate to remain safe. For its annual New Year’s Eve celebration, the city of New York plans to have fewer in attendance in Times Square, all attendees must have a proof of vaccination status, and mandatory mask wearing will be in effect. But if one was to gauge the response to this heightened awareness, in some states across the country, especially in Florida, it is as if Omicron is just another influenza strain, nothing to be worried about. After months of social distancing and the interruption of normalcy, many are just plain tired of COVID-19 and are ready to get on with the business of their pre-pandemic lives.
What many Americans are feeling is pandemic fatigue, which occurs when a way of life is altered under severe circumstances, and emergency procedures and practices are implemented.
Before the spring of 2020, only medical professionals were proﬁcient in the use of masks and mask wearing. By the end of the summer last year, most Americans had a handful of masks at their disposal. Social distancing became the norm. Stadiums and arenas full of enthusiastic fans cheering on their favorite college and professional athletic teams were empty except for the athletes. Restaurants and gyms were closed. Day-to-day living as we knew it had disappeared.
But the human brain is adaptable. It can pivot quickly under duress. Yet pandemic fatigue is described by WHO as “feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviors” to protect oneself and others from covid and its variants. This “demotivation” can come from various sources, “political, cultural, or societal.”
It is indisputable that the primary culprit of pandemic fatigue is political in nature. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been mixed messaging about the existence and severity of COVID-19, the right protocols to combat it and the debate of whether these are efﬁcient.
From the problematic disinfectant and light treatment propagated by former president Donald Trump, to vaccine hesitance fueled by right-wing and alternative news “sources” and social media, Americans are digesting information presented as “fact” yet is merely talking points supporting a political agenda.
Politics and medical science are strange bedfellows in this scenario which adds more fuel to what many Americans feel and are reacting to. President Biden and the CDC can be held accountable for pandemic fatigue as well. The decision to relax mask mandates in the spring of 2021 based on projected vaccination data led to the Delta variant overtaking the original COVID19 in infections and morbid outcomes. The back-and-forth and misinformation plus other factors have led to depression in some cases, because what many want is some sense of pre-covid normalcy and stability.
How can one cope going into a second year of covid and its variants? The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends continuing the practice of social distancing and mask wearing regardless of the cultural and societal pressures to do otherwise – such as the provocative measures that Gov. Ron DeSantis has legislatively orchestrated to thwart attempts to eradicate the pandemic in the state of Florida.
Yes, mask wearing can be annoying for one who isn’t a medical professional, but it is still very necessary. Wohl laments that “what worked to avoid Delta infections may not be enough to prevent catching Omicron so people should be vigilant with masking and distancing and of course being vaccinated.”
Shopping, enjoying entertainment such as taking in a movie or a concert can be risky in a large crowd setting. However, those activities can be engaged in with certain precautions. Perhaps switching a movie date from the evening hours to an earlier hour on the weekends where there are fewer movie goers in the theater. Streaming services provide viable options for viewing just released movies from the safety and comfort of home. “The Matrix Resurrections” premiered in theaters and HBO Max last weekend.
Trips to Publix, Target, or Walmart can be done in the morning. Schedule outings to picnic in the park, or lounge and soak up the sun on the beach, during hours where social distancing is a possibility.
With airlines experiencing a shortage of employees due to many out sick with covid variants, and the resulting hundreds of flight cancellations, perhaps the yearning to visit with loved ones can be assuaged with video chats, Facetime, or other devices. Its not as warming as touching those you love physically, but it can relieve a good amount of pandemic fatigue and despair. Tired of homecooked meals? Restaurants with outside dining and social distancing established can be a doable option.
Pandemic fatigue becomes dangerous when covid precautions are ignored or lax, and detrimental to one’s life and the lives of those they may meet. Sometimes pandemic fatigue is rooted in a sense of hopelessness. While research is ongoing as it pertains to COVID-19, the AMA advises, “if there is anything you can do to maintain hope, that really is the way to go.”
Heading into 2022, taking every precaution into consideration does not mean that humanity must stop thriving and enjoying life. What it means is that a new normalcy is slowly replacing the old one. And that is called evolution. Infectious disease specialist Dr. David Wohl acknowledged last week that “we are ready for this pandemic to be done, but it is hardly done with us.”