A roundup of various strands of the story our our time:
(1) Evidence continues to accumulate suggesting that Omicron is a lot less severe at the individual level than Delta:
But there’s a huge difference between the concepts of severity at the individual and the social levels: a variant might be considerably less dangerous to each individual who gets infected, but still cause enormous social disruption and damage at the collective level, because of extremely high levels of transmissibility:
More than 2,000 flights have been canceled Monday as Covid cases surge across the globe.
Of the more than 2,400 canceled flights, nearly 900 were within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware. More than 6,500 flights are delayed.
Globally, airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after Christmas. In the United States, more than 1,200 flights were canceled and more than 5,000 were delayed on Sunday alone as staff and crew call out sick.
(2) The ongoing damage from the pandemic can’t be measured in strictly epidemiological terms:
While the coronavirus itself posed the biggest threat to older adults, the emotional consequences of the pandemic response seem to have hit younger people the hardest. Among kids, depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues shot up, affecting two-thirds of children mid-pandemic as opposed to just one-third prior. Doctors also believe the pandemic helps to explain the dramatic increase in tic-like disorders among adolescents, the doubling of eating disorders between April and May 2020, and the startling rise in suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17.
As depression and anxiety increased, so did difficulty with basic cognitive function, as people around the world reported a distorted sense of time and memory issues. Under normal circumstances, “you have this rolling agenda for yourself,” says Holman. It gets you through each day and provides the basis for your longer-term future. Canceled plans, flights, classes, and weddings profoundly altered our sense of time.
In the absence of any sense of normalcy, Americans looked for ways to get by. In June 2020, 13 percent of adults reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of managing their pandemic-related emotions, according to the CDC. (Drug deaths rose, too: Between April 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses — an all-time record.) Other common stress reducers fell by the wayside: Both physical activity and partnered sex declined in the US and around the world. “Coping resources were just spent,” Holman says, “absolutely spent.”
Even if Covid-19 disappeared and all our pandemic problems cleared up today, Holman believes the hardship people have already endured will have knock-on effects for decades to come. Going forward, researchers expect to see more recurring mental illness and continued substance-use disorders, as well as an increase in physical health consequences, including heart attacks and stroke.
(3) Testing is basically a disaster everywhere:
Across much of Europe, public health officials are sounding the alarm: COVID testing kits are in short supply just as Omicron cases rise to near-record levels ahead of the Christmas holiday rush.
Long queues are beginning to form outside rapid-testing centers in Rome, Madrid and Milan. In Germany, consumer groups and employers are grumbling about a sudden spike in the price of testing kits (if they can even be obtained). And in some parts of France, appointments at a pharmacy for a COVID swab test are as hard to get as a restaurant reservation.
Meanwhile the testing situation in the USA is predictably a mess, nearly two years into this thing:
On the issue of testing, Reiner says the issue is not just being able to order tests, but accessibility. He says Biden’s announcement of a plan to acquire 500 million tests that Americans can order online is “great but not enough. Tests need to be available everywhere you look: drug stores, gas stations, banks.”
Remember contact tracing? I don’t.
Basically a lot of Very Serious People have mentally given up on trying to do anything about controlling the spread of the pandemic, and are extrapolating their mental state to the nation as a whole. On the other hand, this may well represent an accurate assessment of the state of affairs:
From the first days of the pandemic, both experts and laypeople have disagreed about the extent to which we should engage in social distancing or government-imposed shutdowns. At every stage, some people wanted to take radical steps while others were more worried about the costs and drawbacks of such interventions. And that still holds true today. But the continuous fights over masks and vaccine mandates obscure the extent to which the field of battle has shifted in recent months.
Despite skyrocketing caseloads, few pundits or politicians are proposing strict measures to slow the virus’s spread. The appetite for shutdowns or other large-scale social interventions simply isn’t there. This means that we have effectively given up on “slowing the spread” or “flattening the curve.” To a much greater degree than during previous waves, we have quietly decided to throw up our hands.
The Biden administration’s latest policies are indicative of this shift. According to The New York Times, White House plans include “sending military troops to help hospitals cope with Covid surges; deploying ventilators to places that need them; invoking a wartime law to accelerate production of Covid tests; sending free tests to people next month; and opening more vaccination clinics.” These are all sensible measures. But, to use a metaphor from climate-change discourse, they are predominantly in the realm of adaptation: The goal is to help us cope with a surge of cases, not to prevent one from happening in the first place.
And on top of all this you still have the plague rats.
2022 is going to be . . . something.