With omicron in retreat, does anyone know what’s coming next? A brief reprieve before the next surge? A longer respite?
COVID is here to stay, unfortunately, set to join the cabal of other respiratory illnesses that periodically upend our lives. Like influenza, RSV, and others, we’ll have COVID waves, consigning otherwise healthy people to bed while sending others to the hospital. We’ll never be COVID-free, but we can mitigate the misery. Here’s how:
- Vaccination: Vaccinate everyone. Universal vaccination would mean less illness, less disruption our lives, and fewer chances for mutants to emerge.
- Masks: Require indoor masking whenever disease rates are high. Only N95s, KN95s, or KF94s will do.
- Ventilation: Open windows and install HEPA air purifiers. Upgrade buildings to boost air exchange. Effective ventilation dilutes airborne virus concentrations, making it safer for people to congregate indoors (think bars and restaurants).
- Antivirals: Ramp up the supply of antivirals like Paxlovid and remdesivir, which dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization.
- Testing: Make testing free and widely available. Testing allows people to make responsible choices and allows public health officials to tweak recommendations.
- Sick Leave: Provide paid sick leave to frontline workers so they don’t have to choose between going to work sick and losing pay.
- Public Health: Fix our public health infrastructure so we get timely, accurate data; clear messages; and coordinated strategies to fight outbreaks.
- Social Cooperation: When COVID surges, everyone suffers. The economy tanks, travel is restricted, schools shut down, restaurants fail, and hospitals are overrun. Our biggest challenge may be to convince reluctant people to mask, socially distance, and get their shots—to care about others and not just themselves—but this is crucial. To get our lives back, we need everyone’s cooperation.
After two years of COVID, we know how to keep the virus from dominating our lives. We won’t be returning to our old, pre-pandemic normal, which included a dangerous obliviousness to respiratory viruses. But we now have the knowledge and tools needed to create a new normal and re-open our lives. To create this new normal, though, we need to make smart choices. I hope we do.
Have a good Sunday, everyone,
For further reading and listening:
- Zeynep Tufekci on How to Prepare for the Pandemic’s Next Phase
- How to Find a Quality Mask (and Avoid Counterfeits)
- After Omicron, This Pandemic Will Be Different
- The COVID-Risk Social Contract Is Under Negotiation
- The Omicron Plan: “Circuit breakers” and other short-term strategies to get us through the next wave.
- To Fight Covid, We Need to Think Less Like Doctors
- A National Strategy for the “New Normal” of Life With COVID