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Out of the tunnel and into the snowshed

Started: 2022-02-10 20:49:00

Submitted: 2022-02-10 22:12:15

Visibility: World-readable

The Omicron Wave and what comes next

When I got my COVID-19 vaccine shots last spring, it felt like I was finally at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic.

Julian and Kiesa walk through the tunnel under I-80
Julian and Kiesa walk through the tunnel under I-80

Then the Delta Wave dominated the summer, and suddenly it became obvious that there were enough people who just didn't feel like getting the vaccine and they were intent on ruining it for the rest of us. My employer pushed back the return-to-office date several times (though they continue to let me come into the office whenever I want). The phrase "pandemic of the unvaccinated" floated around the liberal media, which was fine for adults who were too stupid to get a free life-saving vaccine, but my younger child wasn't allowed to get the vaccine. The FDA and the CDC dragged their feet approving the vaccine for children ages five to eleven; once they finally approved the vaccine for Julian's age group, Julian got his shots at a pop-up clinic at his elementary school and he was fully vaccinated by Christmas.

I had exited the long tunnel of the pandemic and entered the snowshed of the pandemic. I could see light outside, but I couldn't quite reach it, and it was no longer clear what I ought to be waiting for.

The kids went back to school, full-time in person, when the school year started in August. I feel pretty happy with how the local school district is handling the pandemic: the district covers the City of Santa Cruz, and it feels like it's large enough to have the capacity to do things (they set up on-site PCR tests and pop-up vaccine clinics for students) while not so large that they get bogged down in big-city school drama. (I've been watching the slow-motion catastrophe that is San Francisco Unified School District's response to the pandemic from afar with an uncomfortable mixture of horror and schadenfreude and relief that I'm not caught up in it any more; and I wasn't impressed by Seattle's school's pivot to online education at the beginning of the pandemic.) Even before Julian was vaccinated, the school switched to a "test-to-stay" model for handling classroom exposure.

Then the Omicron Wave hit and I gave up wondering when the next shoes would drop. I finally traveled out of my time zone in December, and I managed to avoid bringing COVID-19 with me as an uninvited guest to Christmas. I'd feel a sniffle or a scratch in the back of my throat and I'd wonder if this was an inauspicious sign of things to come; but then it would pass and I'd be fine. I gave up paying attention to case counts because I couldn't figure out what they meant: daily average case counts per 100k people spiked well into the hundreds, significantly higher than any prior wave, but it wasn't clear how many of those cases were asymptomatic non-infectious cases in vaccinated people ("breakthrough" cases in name only) and how many were serious cases. None of the old metrics mattered any more: this many cases a year ago would have triggered massive lockdowns but all we got this time around was a mask mandate. We took the opportunity to put away our old home-made cloth masks and replace them with commercial KF-94 masks, which we hung beside the door to the garage so we could reuse them as needed.

Back at school in January the schools started sending us more and more hypothetical-close-contact notices; though both of our kids were fully vaccinated so we didn't actually have to do anything. Soon the school district became overwhelmed by the number of contact notifications they were sending and switched to "widespread exposure", which meant that they assumed that everyone might have been exposed and everyone had to test-to-stay. But no one in my family tested positive or got sick, and by the beginning of February the schools declared an end to widespread exposure and resumed notifying us for every hypothetical contact.

(I learned that one of the downsides to living in a sunny climate with warm winters is that my spring allergies kick in earlier in the year. I spent the second half of January sneezing constantly. This would be annoying at any time but seemed even worse in the middle of a global pandemic.)

Now that my family is (finally) fully vaccinated (and three of us are boosted), I'm most of the way to vaxed-and-relaxed. The next thing I'm worried about is that California (and my county, and most of the Bay Area) dropping its mask mandate next week will expose us to more COVID, and while I'm not especially worried about getting sick I am worried that testing positive (even if we remain asymptomatic) would be a hassle: the kids would stay home from school and I couldn't go into the office. Compared to everything we've been through in the last two years it's relatively minor, but still enough to worry about.

The Omicron Wave burned through the population fast and hot like a grass fire, but like a grass fire it left a trail of destruction in its wake. We are now riding the trailing edge of the wave, and it's not at all obvious what we have to look forward to next. Do we assume that everyone has now been exposed and now everyone has a high level of antibodies? Are we even more worried about the next variant, whatever that might be? (The Omicron Wave gave everyone the data they need to strengthen whatever they believed before the pandemic.)

I've spent nearly two years living through the COVID-19 pandemic and now, more than any time in the last two years, I feel like I still don't know what's going to happen next.