Sun | May 22, 2022

Basil Jarrett | My ‘COVID’ experience

Published:Thursday | January 27, 2022 | 12:06 AM

IT FINALLY got me. At least I think so. After nearly two years of dodging the COVID bullet, the pandemic gods finally backed me into a corner, fixed their sights on my position and unloaded a full barrage of the Omicron variant right on top of my double-vaxxed, double-masked, heavily sanitised behind. The possible infection occurred while I was travelling last holiday period, as within two days of landing in COVID-Central, USA, my entire body lit up like a Christmas tree with every possible pain receptor doing its best to let me know that something was wrong. I refused to accept that I had COVID, as just the thought of spending my Christmas and possibly New Year’s Eve locked away in isolation plunged me into further denial.

TEST SHORTAGES

I say ‘possible infection’ because after taking a full seven days to finally get a COVID test, I still don’t know if it was COVID Delta, COVID Omicron, COVID Megatron or just your regular run-of-the-mill “bad flu”. When I finally did get a test, it showed up as a negative – surprise, surprise – as it is quite possible that I could have cleared the virus by then. I’ll probably never know. Testing shortages brought on by the Omicron surge meant that the regular go-to spots for a quick and reliable COVID test in the US were unavailable early enough to be useful, and my best bet was to strap in, bundle up and gorge myself on Netflix, vitamin C, an assortment of painkillers and some good old-fashioned bush tea thrown in for good measure. Cheers to grandma for that last one.

What the experience did teach me, however, was that it is quite possible that at some point, we may very well have to accept that COVID and all its variants are here to stay, and the best that we can hope for is reduced severity brought on by having a fully vaccinated population. After all, 2022 was to be the year, remember? We all looked at the US and Europe with great anticipation of what would hopefully soon start to happen here at home. Over there, more and more shirt sleeves were being rolled up as masks began to be rolled down. Football stadiums and bars were full again. Social distances were being closed in. Heck, even kids were preparing to go back to the classroom.

And now this. Another variant, another surge, another reason to wonder if 2022 is the new 2021. Thankfully, my not-quite-sure-it’s-COVID-but-strongly-suspect-that-it-was experience was relatively mild. A 98-degree fever, a stuffy nose, achy back muscles and some general lethargy were all that I had to endure. Believe me, if you do catch COVID, you want to get the one I got – or didn’t get. And without trying to sound overly preachy, I’m quite sure that my two shots of the vaccine played a great part in this.

Even the scientists have begun to accept that COVID may ebb and flow just like your regular, vanilla-flavoured flu, dashing all hopes that the disease will be completely eradicated one day. The great irony of the situation is that if COVID does become endemic, that is, when the population has developed an overall resistance and achieved the elusive herd immunity, it would be credited largely to the swift spread of the most infectious of all the variants so far. In that regard, we are quite fortunate then that Omicron is also the least deadly. Throw in the possibility of a large, heavily vaccinated population into the mix, and we may very well begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to Omicron, it appears that everyone will be infected at some point. And while this mutated version of the virus does kill, its lethality is significantly reduced especially among the fully vaccinated.

But just what does this endemicity mean? Can we finally discard our face masks, throw out the hand sanitisers and kick other preventative measures to the kerb? Unfortunately not. As we’ve seen in recent times, Omicron may not be as deadly as other flavours of COVID, but it does take persons out of the game for an extended period of time – important persons, too. When healthcare workers and other vital first responders and emergency personnel are sick at home watching Netflix, it means that there are fewer doctors, nurses, police, soldiers and firemen out there to respond to crises. We saw this recently as many healthcare workers were just too sick, too exhausted or too besieged to show up for work, leaving critically ill patients badly exposed and vulnerable – even non-COVID ones. Children, too, may finally have made it back to the classroom, only to find that their teachers have called in sick. So no. Don’t throw out that face mask just yet as the danger is still very much present, albeit in a new form.

THE SWEET SPOT

The coronavirus will therefore most likely become endemic as a combination of vaccination and infection builds immunity. How soon this happens, however, is anybody’s guess as new mutations seem to be constantly in the dressing room waiting to make their debut on the big stage. Some pharmaceutical companies have started to predict that COVID will become endemic in another two years or so, with bouts of periodic surges in-between. What is clear, however, is that vaccines remain our single most important weapon in getting to that elusive sweet spot where a COVID-positive diagnosis simply means a day off from the office, some badly needed bed rest and, of course, some of grandma’s sweet bush tea.

Major Basil Jarrett is a communication strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a communications consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com