We‘re All Going to Get Omicron

My friend Fred (not his real name) is one of the most conscientiously COVID-avoidant people I know. In the pandemic’s early days, he was the guy at my health club who investigated mechanisms we could use to sterilize tennis balls in real time, during play, lest virus particles make their way from one player’s hand to the other, via the pathogenic conduit of yellow nylon fuzz.

So it came as a surprise when, earlier this month, Fred invited a few of us to his apartment for board games. He hadn’t stopped worrying about COVID. But this was a special occasion: A college friend whom we’d both known for more than 30 years was coming to town—call him Craig—and it would be a long time before either of us would get a chance to see him again. So I talked about it with my family, and decided the soiree was worth the risk.

I showed up at Fred’s apartment with a mask on. And, as per our per-arranged plans, I kept it on as I took a rapid COVID test administered by Craig (who’d already passed his own test, as had Fred). We all had a good laugh at the surreal spectacle, which, to pre-2020 eyes, might have looked like some kind of exotic recreational drug regimen.

Then Craig spectacularly fumbled the test vial, and splashed us with the buffer solution (which I dubbed COVID Juice), and we had to restart.

Thankfully, I came up negative. And after the obligatory joke whereby someone crudely draws in a second test line with a felt-tip pen, we sat down to play RoboRally and catch up with two years’ worth of news. One of Fred and Craig’s college friends, Carla, also dropped by.

Bright and early the next day came the phone call from Fred: Craig couldn’t get on his flight back home to the Pacific Northwest because he’d tested positive for COVID. And yes, Craig had taken another test, and he’d flunked that one, too.

All of us then joined a Zoom call and did the math on when Craig had likely become infected, how long we’d spent together, and the consequent likelihood that he’d given it to the rest of us. The conclusion was that we probably all now had COVID. So I grabbed the essentials, and headed down to my basement office for a week of quarantine.

For someone who’s been fretting hard about COVID these last two years, Fred really seemed to take the news in stride. This is a guy who basically hasn’t left home since February, 2020—the very paragon of a public-health-minded citizen. Then the moment he finally decides to hang out with a few well-tested friends, bam. It’s like the fastidious virgin who spends years guarding his virtue, then instantly comes down with the clap on the first night he surrenders to desire.

You’d think Fred would be upset with Craig (the diseased strumpet of my metaphor), or at least curse his ill fortune more generally. Yet there he was, on our group call, joining in the laughter at what a waste of time and money all those kitchen-table instant tests had proved to be.

The fact is that during our evening together, we’d (ironically) spent a lot of time talking about how we’d feel when we got Omicron. The variant is so insanely contagious that it seemed unrealistic to imagine that we weren’t all going to contract it sooner or later. With the Delta variant and its predecessor, I’d hewed to the hope that I could hold out indefinitely by avoiding close-range face-to-face contact. But Omicron appears to spread through airborne routes, so it’s easier to get it just by being in the same room with someone. And it reproduces quickly in the upper respiratory tract (though, mercifully, less so in the lungs).

“Everyone is going to get it,” I said, affecting a dramatic tone of grave prophecy as I waved my index finger around the table. “You and you—and you. No one will be spared.”

It says something about how long I’ve known Fred and Craig that I felt comfortable being this candid. No, it’s not like I’m the first person to say this kind of thing, let alone think it. (A Yale public-health lecturer argued this thesis in Atlantic way back in February, 2020, even when we were still dealing with the original, less contagious, more deadly form of the disease.) But expressing such an opinion in public still feels strangely forbidden—because the orthodox line that one still sees on official government channels, and even on many private citizens’ social-media feeds, is that we can completely beat this thing if we all follow the rules.

I thought this orthodox, absolutist approach was a useful and necessary message back in the pre-Omicron age—which is why I did my layman’s best to help spread the word on avoiding the kind of close contact that spread the disease. Before the Delta variant emerged, it’s worth noting, many jurisdictions around the world really did either get down to zero caseloads (or close to it) with aggressive public-health approaches. And the opposite argument, that we should just throw open the floodgates and put our faith in “herd immunity” was discredited; as was the often accompanying claim that COVID was “just like the flu,” a seasonal phenomenon that we should just get done with. Early estimates on COVID’s fatality rate typically ran to at least two percent at the time. And killing one in every 50 people didn’t strike me as the best way to manage a pandemic—especially since such an approach would mean overtaxing our intensive-care facilities, leading to a truly apocalyptic scenario in which our grandparents would bypass the hospital and go straight to the morgue.

But we’re not living in 2020 anymore. In my country, Canada, a stunning 88 percent of people over the age of 11 are fully vaccinated, with hundreds of thousands getting boosted every day. Moreover, Omicron is now known to be a milder disease that poses relatively little risk of death, or even hospitalization, for those who aren’t unvaccinated or immunocompromised. In Ontario, new cases have been running at about 10,000 per day since late December—and the real number is likely many times higher than that, since (as I can attest) it has become difficult for anyone to get PCR tested. Yet there are currently only 137 vaccinated ICU cases in a province of close to 15 million people. And while deaths have risen (not everyone is vaccinated, after all), they are still running at less than half of the peak levels from the first two waves.

In South Africa, where Omicron first was documented, it fell away quickly after a sudden surge. And scientists are predicting something similar will soon happen in the United States. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease modeler and epidemiologist at Columbia University, for instance, recently reported that his projections “depict a rapid surge of cases nationally that peaks at record high numbers during the first one to three weeks of January.” This was in the New York Times, I should add, not otherwise known for soft-selling the COVID threat.

All of this was in my head when I assured my friends they were going to get Omicron. And I went further with my heresies, in fact, telling them that while I wouldn’t actively court the disease, I felt like there was never a better time to (accidentally) get it, since we’d all recently been boosted. “Needless to say, this isn’t a view I’d put on social media,” I added. “But it’s something I think about.”

To my surprise, it turned out they’d been having similar thoughts—though, like me, they weren’t prepared to go out and actually invite infection. A day later, one of them even confessed to being “happy” to find out they (likely) had Omicron, all the better to get the inevitable over with.

My situation is more complicated because I live with four other people, and it isn’t up to me to turn our house into one big Omicron party, like George Costanza involuntarily introducing Jerry’s kosher girlfriend to the joys of eating lobster. But it’s telling that when I texted my family members the news from my basement quarantine bunker, none of them even pretended to express concern over my health. Instead, they went on (at some considerable length) about how inconvenient it would be for them to get sick during exam period, and how this might impact the impending resumption of their hockey and volleyball careers.

Now you may be aghast at this kind of self-interested response, and suspect that I have raised callous children. But in their defence, my teenage daughters both have uncountable friends who’ve been catching Omicron these last few weeks—invariably with minor symptoms or none at all. Omicron has already become old news in their crowds, as has the vastly diminished health threat to those who are vaccinated and boosted. So yes, they still flee the kitchen when I text to warn them that COVID Man is momentarily coming up from his dungeon to grab some needed item. But what they’re scared of is missing out on activities and good grades, not of dying in a hospital bed, which was very much the horrifying image embedded in all our brains during the first phase of the pandemic.

Omicron isn’t a joke, even if my tone is light: People are dying from it. And if you’re not vaccinated, you should fix that. But even so, there’s no getting around the fact that the current round of lockdowns has an odd sort of feel to it. In private, if not in public, a growing number of us are willing to admit that we’re not really afraid of this disease anymore. Rather, what we fear is its indirect consequences: missed trips and get-togethers, forced absences from school and sports, home isolation, and the possibility of transmitting the disease to one of the small minority of people in our society whom Omicron is at all likely to hurt.

These indirect consequences flow from social reflexes and regulatory templates that belong to another phase of the pandemic. Because we use the same word—COVID—to describe both 2022-era Omicron and the far more terrifying 2020-era disease that first emerged, it’s natural that we summon the same response. But it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the growing disconnect between response and reality, which is mirrored by the phase shift between the public and private conversations people are having about the disease. The terror is performed. The good humour is hidden.

Of course, the next COVID variant might change everything. (Imagine, for instance, a disease that spreads like Omicron, kills like Delta, and isn’t abated by existing vaccines.) But we’re not there yet, and implementing draconian policies on the basis of as-yet non-existent diseases isn’t something most of us would, or should, support. Instead, it would be helpful to start acknowledging—in public words, not just private whispers—that the project at hand is no longer preventing Omicron infections outright. Rather, it’s managing Omicron’s pace in order to ensure hospitals aren’t overtaxed, and convincing as many people as possible to get vaccinated before they get hit by the inevitable.

And yes, in some cases, that will mean families having frank conversations about whether it makes sense for everyone to get the disease all at once, and so quarantine together, rather than a drawn our process whereby each gets it one by one.

By way of example, I might note, my own family had exactly this kind of candid conversation a few days ago. Different views were shared, though I don’t feel comfortable disclosing which prevailed. Suffice it to say that I’m typing these words from the basement, alone, waiting patiently for my dinner to be placed at the door.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/01/11/were-all-going-to-get-omicron/
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Good luck, hope you clear it soon!

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Reading this article was like cheering for the handicapped kid to round all the bases at a t-ball game while the opposing team purposely fumbles the ball several times in order to let him reach home base. Hooray, you did it!

While I commend this author for saying the unthinkable, or I guess rather writing the unspeakable, given his Covidian fundamentalist friends, let’s not pretend now that all of this ridiculous hoopla is only silly now that the virus has attenuated to the all pervasive omicron variant. Despite what this article implies, SARS-COV-2 was always spread through the air. I mean seriously Quillette wtf is this ?:

But Omicron appears to spread through airborne routes

It’s spin. It’s a Covidian lie designed to convince others that the virus is spread differently now. Making up differences between Alpha and Omicron like that just to tell yourself you weren’t being silly all along is pretty damned silly, Jonathan.

Over 75% of people with COViD associated deaths had at least four comorbidities, the CDC finally admits, as people like me have been saying all along. Some percentage of the rest died in traffic collisions and the like.

This whole thing has been a mass panic over a nothingburger from the very beginning, so this “now that’s its attenuated to omicron which travels through the air, its finally OK to go back to normal life like these deniers have been saying all along” attitude is merely a cop-out to help you keep your misplaced pride intact.

You have all been played like a bunch of fools and now you’re trying to save face and take my “told you so” away from me. Well I’m not giving it up that easily. Not because of my pride but rather my rejection of this hysteria that has been unwarranted since day one.

MisterMetokur called it when he dubbed 2022 The Year of the Chud and now within the first two weeks Jonathan Kay is eating his dinner underground like a damned morlock. All while telling himself and his family they were right to be excessively fearful all along. We’re not buying it. This is sad, desperate, pathetic spin.

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OK, this heresy is unacceptable. It constitutes violence. You will all obey. You will all believe. You will all conform. you will all believe the media; the media is your friend. The government is your friend. Liberals are the cream of society. Anyone who questions the panic, or the measures taken by our benevolent authorities is obviously a fascist, a racist, a homophobic, a transphobic, an anti-science, and an anti-Semitic Trumpster.

You will all report to the nearest Australian-type, or Oregon-type concentration camp.

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The hypothesis here might be right. My gf and I are both back to working from home these days, so we’ve had very limited contact with anyone except on the odd (masked) trip to the grocery store. And yet, over the weekend, the Covid toes that I had during the first few weeks of the pandemic in 2020 came back in a milder form.

And yes, in some cases, that will mean families having frank conversations about whether it makes sense for everyone to get the disease all at once, and so quarantine together, rather than a drawn our process whereby each gets it one by one.

Perhaps this will be the New Thing? Big Brother kicking down our doors to inoculate the whole family at the same time?

Thesis:

The covid moral panic was embraced as heartily as it was as a heaven-sent diversion from the Victim moral panic.

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This is a fascinating article because it reminds me of how different we all are. My family never took precautions too seriously. We were holding big gatherings as early as Easter of 2020 and we never stopped. That’s probably why my husband and I caught Covid in January of 2021 (which we survived just fine).

There’s a common misconception that the unvaccinated will suffer dire consequences if and when they catch Covid. The truth is millions of unvaccinated people have caught Covid and survived. This is an obvious truth. My experience with it was a minor cold and I was back to normal in just a couple days. My husband’s was slightly worse but still never close to going to the hospital. Our parents, all in their 60s and 70s, survived Covid without having to go to the hospital. None of us have been vaccinated. The problem with trying to compel people to get vaccinated is that you’re telling them to solve a problem (surviving Covid) which they have already solved. And yet I keep hearing the refrain, “Just wait until you get it!”

I might get Omicron. I might not. My immunity might still protect me. We’ll see. But I do like the reminder that not everyone thinks and acts like me. We need to all respect that.

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Fresh meat! Welcome Ariam.

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If you’re talking about the hypothesis being that the virus would become milder and more contagious, I fully agree. People like me have been using that to argue against lockdowns and for exposure to those who wanted it.

The idea being pushed in this article is that now that the virus has become so radically different, we should start to allow people to mingle if they choose. My point is its not so radically different and we should have been doing that all along.

The project has never prevented infections outright, Omicron or otherwise. It has hurt people–poor people, disproportionately. Covid hysteria has always been a luxury belief.

Also I’d like to draw attention to the vaccine propaganda in the article:

What about those who are unvaccinated? This ridiculous statement, lumping in unjabbed with immunocompromised, suggests the disease–as it exists now, with the omicron variant–poses a significant risk for those who are unjabbed. The disease poses a risk to almost no one who is of even moderate health. Even the boogeyman Alpha variant was only associated with 15% of the deaths of all people over 85 that contracted it. The average age of “covid death” is higher than the average age for death itself, and that’s after including all the 5 year old leukemia patients and the fatal motorcycle accidents of 20-somethings who tested positive 3 weeks prior.

Agreed, viruses attenuate. That’s my line. But this article is a joke.

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The headline should be subtitled, “And that’s good.”

In as much as omicron seems to be somewhere between a head cold and a seasonal flu in severity…

[“But people have died from omicron!” shrieks an acolyte of Dr. Fauci from the wings. “Yes and people have died of seasonal flus and of head colds (the latter via secondary infections),” I retort, “but we don’t cede our civil liberties and shut down our economy every winter to mitigate the spread of colds and flu.”]

…we should probably encourage its spread (while Great-Barrington-Declaration-style protecting the vulnerable) as It is likely to produce cross-immunity for future variants (which, evolutionary theory tell us are likely to be yet more contagious and less virulent, though we could get unlucky on the virulence side).

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No, this article is reasonable. It is a good example of the binary fundamentalist mind that you reject people slowly coming round to the realization that, on balance, the time for extreme measures is now over. In my own case for example, it’s not enough that I’m now ‘on your side’ – I am – because I still think that Fauci is not one of the lizard people, that the initial lockdowns were needed, the vaccine was the right approach in 2020, most of our governments are not part of a vast plot to enslave us … but, yes, the time for change has come and any governments that don’t realize it, are likely to be kicked out of office. I’ll bet you a beer that it’s all over by spring and we can get back to agonizing about Victims.

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I’ve been in Florida the entire pandemic. This meme isn’t far off from the truth.

Walk around and people are living life, the theme parks are full, nary a mask to see. And yet Florida has no worse outcome from COVID than New York, or even Canada. And we certainly didn’t sacrifice as many freedoms and New Zealand and Australia to get there.

This article has so many little snippets that just make me shake my head about the ‘contientiousness’ of avoiding the disease, the fear of getting it, not from health concerns primarily, but from being considered ‘unclean’ and a ‘sinner’ for not following the ‘scriptures’ of how to behave from on high. And yes, this has always had a serious religious undertone from the mask talismans to the signaling of virtue.

But yeah, truly, you guys are still playing pandemic?

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If by “all over” you mean the restrictions on Canadian businesses to serve unjabbed Canadians, you’re on. I will mail you a case of beer in the mail.

The Toronto Star is the unofficial paper of the Liberal Party, and sentiments toward the scapegoat-heretic class are getting worse, thanks to people like Jonathan Kay spreading bullshit like this ridiculous article.

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Here’s the latest positive test data from my facility in Seattle. Small and unscientific, but it does fit the pattern seen in South Africa and on the U.S. East Coast. A huge surge, then (hopefully in our case) an equally huge drop-off. Let’s hope it continues. (Ignore the final data point, that’s yesterday and is incomplete.)

Cases in-house are up significantly, but not in ICU. ICU has seen a bump, but that’s it, and about a third of our ICU cases are pre-Omicron.

I would love to see the CDC come out strong as follows:

“If You Get COVID, Relax - You’ll Probably Be Fine. Here’s What To Do:”

…and then list what actions to take if 1) you test positive but have no symptoms; 2) have mild symptoms, 3) when to call the doctor, 4) when to go to the Emergency room. With additional recommendations specific to age and/or existing co-morbidities.

These instructions would need to be fluid, reacting to changes on the ground. Possibly they would need to be localized where hospital capacity is an issue. But this is not hard to do. I can’t believe CDC’s current disorganized, unhelpful approach.

Great article, BTW. I’ve had very similar experiences and conversations recently as well.

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My goodness. I found the essay to be a reasonable personal reflection from a man whose attitudes have changed along the way based on the best information available to him over time and his personal experiences. Showing those with whom you disagree a little bit of grace can be a helpful at times.

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Goodness gracious me. Taking a hard line when it comes to determining my own bodily autonomy. How stubborn and crass.

Here’s the thing. This is a vax propaganda piece. Everyone wants to compromise and meet in the middle. It sounds so moderate and temperate, doesn’t it? Compromise. But it seems those with whom I disagree often want to just take more and more, while I don’t want a damn thing from them but to let businesses choose their own clientele and not enable the govt to enact Jim Covid laws.

I’m not asking anything of Jonathan Kay. He’s free to inject whatever he wants into his body. He can go down to the farmers market at the vaccine stand next to the lemon tart guy and get them all. Every single one, as much as he wants. I really don’t care.

When one party wants something from the other, and the other wants to just be left alone. What does it mean to show some grace? Compromise a little bit? Meet in the middle and only give him half of what he wants? This is how these leeches make incremental gains, appealing to compromise and grace. I am taking a hard line on this issue of bodily autonomy and freedom of assembly. It’s a hard line. I will not comply. Furthermore, I will ridicule those who ask me to comply. No more leeches making unilateral, incremental gains under the guise of unity and grace. I’m done.

Instead, I will make fun of Joanthan Kay for acting like he’s some kind of courageous truth speaker while he pushes these increasingly useless jabs, and I will call him a subterranean cuck for locking himself down in his own home like Bart Simpson’s conjoined fish-head eating twin, Hugo. Its cucks vs chuds. And the tag line to that movie CHUD was “they’re not staying down there anymore.” Meanwhile this guy embodies the worst of both worlds. Are you reading this, Jonathan? You are both a cuck AND a chud, except you are staying down there just like your wife told you to, despite all your wannabe “look how based I am because I realize we don’t need to be afraid of tennis balls” cringe. You are cringe.

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Hey, this is mental violence to my soul, man. Back off :slight_smile:

Sure, it’s a later stage. Viruses typically evolve to become more contagious, less dangerous. Omicron is a dramatic step in that direction. From what I can see, the fatality rate from pure “small o” is well under under 0.1%, less than a mild flu season. The bad cases you hear about almost always have a mix of delta as well, as delta is still around. Don’t be fooled by NNNNN admitted to hospitals “with COVID.” Most are being admitted for something else and show positive on routine tests.

Even the less contagious, more dangerous original COVID strain wasn’t as dangerous as was thought, when people were throwing around 3% or even 1%. The actual number was somewhere between 0.3% and 0.6%, about 2x to 4x the flu. Not the Black Death, although not to be treated lightly, to be sure.

What the CDC just admitted is something anyone paying attention already knew in 2020. Outside of the over-75 elderly, COVID was never a top threat, just a moderately serious one, if you did not have a complicating condition. Unfortunately, in Fatty Land (the US), too many are diabetic, pre-diabetic, overweight, or obese. What’s happened in the last 40 years, thanks to the junk food industry and totally misguided nutrition and other policies, is just shocking. (I’m somewhat overweight and have spent the pandemic getting better at losing weight. I still need to lose more.) We’ve seen an explosion of metabolic problems and the normalization of bizarre allergies.

One thing to keep in mind: this rapid shift in a better direction is largely due to vaccination. Vaccination and (at a lower level) natural immunity is forcing the virus to evolve in a more benign direction.

One of our kids is now recovering from a mild COVID case, and no one else in the household got it. We’re all vaxxed, and the adults are boosted. It’s seen over and over, especially at work, where we’ve had a small but steady stream of breakthrough infections: low or no contagion, all cases mild and short-lived, with no signs of long COVID anywhere.

Conversely, I know someone whose spouse (unvaccinated) got a mix of delta and early omicron in the fall, with devastating effect, not elderly, although moderately overweight. It’s a crap shoot. My friend had a moderately bad case in 2020, before vaccines or rapid testing, and obviously has decent natural immunity. My friend’s spouse went from bad COVID to long COVID without a break and is still recovering, after four months.

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The data from South Africa shows that Omicron is super-contagious, but not that deadly. Active cases (in SA) have reached record highs (by far). The death tool is below prior peaks (by far). Note that deaths have gone up. Omicron is not harmless. However, the rise in deaths is quite low compared to the rise in cases.

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I got (apparently) Omicron. My wife purchased a blood oxygen-meter. The threshold for hospitalization was (using this meter) was 92. I never went below 96. I have since fully recovered (apparently). Before Christmas, I tested positive for COVID-19. Since then I have tested negative for COVID-19. My worst symptoms were roughly the equivalent of the Flu. Not trivial, but not dangerous either.

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