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  9. January More Voices: Omicron

January More Voices: Omicron

Dear Pulse readers,

This New Year welcomes us with COVID’s latest incarnation, the Omicron variant. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Once again each of us must assess risk and make decisions about our daily lives based on data that is incomplete and sometimes alarming.

Here’s what my past ten days have been like:

Given Omicron’s transmissibility and with cases rising sharply in New York, a few days before Christmas I start wearing an N95 mask for my morning train ride to the Bronx.

Two days before Christmas, I see a patient in the office. Unvaccinated despite my urgings and despite serious cardiac issues, he’s now been exposed to a COVID-positive household member. Doing my best to temper my frustration with him, I put on full PPE, including a gown and face shield, and do a nasal swab. The result is back within hours: positive.

I call him with the results. And worry.

The following day, my wife and I cancel plans to stay at an inn after Christmas, reasoning that sleeping and hiking around would be safe enough, but dining indoors might not.

Our daughters come to visit on Christmas Day. Thanks to my foresighted wife, we have a small supply of at-home tests. Everyone gets tested–and is negative.

That afternoon, I speak with my brother, a retired physician and something of a contrarian by nature. Fully vaccinated and boosted, he’s spending the holidays in Florida–unmasked. “If I get it, I get it.” He’s convinced that with Omicron, serious illness is unlikely for a fully vaccinated person. “They’re just trying to scare us.”

Six days after my unvaccinated patient’s positive COVID test, I call him. “I’m fine,” he says. Slight cough, no fever, no change in taste or smell. I’m surprised and a little puzzled. Will this be the extent of his Omicron infection?

The following day I receive a communication from our department chair, which reads, in part:

The ER test positivity rate is now close to 50%…Current estimates are for 1100 COVID-positive inpatients…by mid-January, which will be close to the first surge peak in April 2020….

Whoa. That sounds concerning.

But then, yesterday morning, while driving to the fruit market, I tune in the BBC News Hour. A South African physician reports a sharp drop in COVID cases and hospitalizations. Only a minority of hospitalized Omicron patients require oxygen, he says. Most are less sick and are going home sooner. He cautions that South Africa’s experience may not be replicated in other countries.

Once at the fruit market, I’m grateful to note that every employee and every shopper is masked. Will the masks will come off over the coming months, I wonder. Will COVID become more like the flu?

Is my brother right?

For the moment, I’m still being cautious.

What about you? How are you, your family and friends handling this latest surge?

January’s More Voices theme is Omicron. Send us your lived experience. And while you’re at it, have a look at last month’s theme: Eating.

For more details, visit More Voices FAQs–or go directly to the More Voices Submission Form.

Remember, your health-related story should be 40-400 words. And no poetry, please.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you a safe and healthy 2022,

Paul Gross


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