Updated: May 27
Once again NYC is at the center of a new Covid variant and if history repeats itself, it will be spreading outward to the rest of the country. Oh joy. There were close to 20,000 new infections in NYC in the last 14 days. The real number is higher since so many people are testing at home and those cases are not reported. The good news is that the number of deaths per million people is down to 1.57 from 7.7 at Christmas and from 5.5 at the beginning of March. But those numbers are much higher in other parts of the globe. The new variant has been there longer and is probably now reaching more vulnerable populations.
What does that mean? The information has been conflicting and hard to decipher. Bottom line, if you're vaccinated, boosted, and have a healthy immune system, your chance of being hospitalized from an infection is pretty low. That does not, however, prevent you from contracting Long Covid which is when you experience chronic fatigue, brain fog, and muscle pain. Rarer symptoms include almost every bodily function ranging from digestive problems to night sweats, breathing difficulty, and depression to hair loss. These symptoms can last for months or even years.
If you're immune-compromised, meaning your immune system isn't able to fight off infections, if you're on medication that suppresses your immune system because of an autoimmune disease, (asthma, Lyme, IBS, chron's, psoriasis, etc.), if you have cancer, HIV, or if you're older, with the physiological changes that come with aging, including a weaker immune system and other underlying health conditions, you need to wear masks and social distance inside. Outside, the virus is dispersed by the wind so it's considered safer.
What is an autoimmune disease? They happen when the immune system is turned on, probably while fighting an infection, and it doesn't turn back off. The immune system causes damage to parts of the body through chronic inflammation, mistaking our own bodies for a foreign invader. Taking immunosuppressants can relieve symptoms but leave people vulnerable to infections. Stress can suppress the immune system as well. Our body turns off the immune system to prioritize a different kind of perceived threat, putting us in a fight or flight response instead of focusing on foreign invaders. The toxins in processed food and environmental toxins are thought to also contribute. The body recognizes them as something it needs to rid itself of, causing baseline inflammation.
When will this all end? The problem is that there are still billions of unvaccinated people around the globe. Those bodies all represent an opportunity for the virus to mutate. Viruses enter the body and then enter our cells before the immune system even knows they're there. Once inside our cells, they reproduce, and the volume of new viruses eventually causes the cell to explode. These newly released viruses spread throughout the body, infecting more cells. Our immune system eventually catches on and can start fighting the virus but in an unvaccinated body, the response is much slower and there is a high probability of landing in the hospital.
Viruses are pretty wiley. Like humans, their survival strategy is to reproduce and spread as quickly as possible. A vaccinated body recognizes the virus earlier and kills it before it has a chance to spread. That's really frustrating for viruses. So they figure out new ways to work around our defenses. Again, they need unvaccinated bodies to do this. A vaccinated body doesn't give them the luxury of time to figure out new strategies. Every new variant is the virus's attempt at thwarting our defenses, including defenses obtained from a vaccine.
Omicron has proven to be less deadly than the Delta variant. The newest Omicron variant - B2A seems to be even less deadly (but let's not get ahead of ourselves, it's still early). Here's the problem. the virus is going to continue to mutate because it still has unvaccinated bodies to mutate in. Every time it mutates, we don't know if the new variant will be more deadly than Delta or less deadly than Omicron BA2. It's a crapshoot.
In my shop, I wear my mask. And I will until this is over. I'm 61 and healthy. I probably won't die if I get Covid but the last thing I want to do is accidentally spread the virus to someone less healthy than me. It's not uncommon to be asymptomatic if you're vaccinated. I also don't know if the next person that walks in will have Covid, and I really don't want to get sick now, after successfully avoiding it all this time.
Be safe out there. Err on the side of caution. Get vaccinated if you haven't already. It has been a long, long time since this started but wearing a mask isn't a death sentence. Covid could be - for someone.