Weekly coronavirus-related chat, questions, and minor updates - week of January 3
This thread is posted weekly, and is intended as a place for more-casual discussion of the coronavirus and questions/updates that may not warrant their own dedicated topics. Tell us about what the situation is like where you live!
This week I think I crossed some sort of threshold of despair about the inevitability of catching covid at some point. Obviously I don't blame anyone (who is vaccinated and being reasonably responsible) for getting infected, but on some level I've been regarding my continuing good health as a badge of honor. I had a scare on Tuesday, which thankfully turned out to just be food poisoning and I was back on my feet again quickly. But the experience shook me.
The spread of omicron is alarming. That's putting it mildly. The chart of new daily cases is a hockey stick that makes delta look like a speed bump. I'm looking at estimates that in my region right now, there's a 35% chance one person is infected in a group of just ten people. Previously I'd known of a couple acquaintances who'd had it, now suddenly many entire families I know well are getting sick together all at once. I feel like the guy who managed to avoid the flood by climbing to a high point, but the waters are still rising and I'm running out of ground to stand on.
Meanwhile the public health response is shockingly silent. People are gathering normally. After a long focus on remote, the company I work for is charging forward with its plans to fully reopen all global offices this month, like nothing has changed. My kid's school is still in-person, lunching en masse in the cafeteria. You can tell something's up if you try to go to a covid testing site, because the line wraps around the block and people are now being turned away. Fortunately I live in a place with high vaccination rates and people are mostly still masking up, but "social distancing" is a distant memory even here.
I know that covid deaths are not generally on the rise and I'm grateful for that. I understand that it's a good thing that the virus is evolving to be less lethal. I just haven't come to terms with the fact that it's basically a sure thing that everybody in my house is going to get it at some point. Probably soon. I'm not worried about any of us dying (maybe a bit for my youngest, who isn't eligible for the vaccine yet), but honestly I'm scared shitless about everything else that comes with it...
I don't want to be laid up at the same time as my spouse, both of us unable to take care of our kids. I don't want either of us to be bedridden for a week or more of agony, constantly evaluating if we should stay in place or go to the hospital. I don't want to lose my sense of taste or smell. I still have lingering issues from bronchitis I had years ago, I don't know if that indicates a comorbidity for covid severity, or a higher likelihood of lingering long covid after the virus has run its course... and I don't want to find out. People are talking about how endemicity will be a good thing and I just can't bring myself to accept that. I'm not ready to just shrug it off and accept that I will probably spend the rest of my life catching some variant of covid every year or two, each infection increasing the likelihood of lasting tissue damage, lingering symptoms, and probably a shorter lifespan too.
Ugh. I'm just angry and afraid and needed to vent to strangers online.
Remember two years ago, when almost the entire world was locked down at home at once for several weeks, and we still couldn't stop the spread of the virus when it was a LOT less infectious than the current variant?
And there's nothing to justify here, no "we didn't do it correctly" or anything like that. The lockdowns are probably one of the most shocking achievements of the entire pandemic, and of recent history: World leaders, more or less all together, unified around a strategy to try to stop the pandemic. This is as good as it gets.
It didn't work. If we were to do it again, given the current variant, it absolutely wouldn't work. And most of all, it came with severe trade-offs.
Follow me on a bit of a tangent. There are two mechanisms which run the planet: Lifecycles, and trade-offs.
"Idealism" and "naïveté" are ill-defined words, but to me, they represent the lack of understanding of certain trade-offs. Which in turn means not understanding the impact something can have. When I was younger, I was against country borders: They're completely virtual and arbitrary, unnecessarily restrictive, etc. Time gave me the opportunity to reflect on the positive aspects of multiple societies and territories (however ill-defined those territorial borders are). I didn't understand the trade-offs.
Similarly, the first time I realized a life doesn't have "infinite value" was pretty grim. It seemed so absurd to me: Money is just a number. Life is concrete. More important! And with time…
People find out about this on a regular basis. You have to put a value on a life because you have to deal with trade-offs. They're the materialized version of newton's third law.
If you didn't put a value on life, you wouldn't be sitting at home or wherever it is you're sitting/standing right now. You'd be spending your time saving lives. You wouldn't eat. You wouldn't sleep. You wouldn't live. And you'd be fulfilling a paradox. When taken to its full logical conclusion, making life worth more than everything else means losing it.
At one point, you have to say "this is when I eat". And you have to figure out how you're going to eat. You could hunt and forage, but that takes time, time you could be spending saving precious lives. And so, you need money…
So, I understand why you might be frustrated at seeing society come back to "normal" when the numbers are worse than ever. On the face of it, it boggles the mind. It's worth looking at the trade-offs that are being made, though.
With exceptions, vaccines are available and offer a very high amount of protection to those who take it. Also over time, the disease has become milder and physical tolerance has built up through natural immunity and vaccines, This means that most people (you included) are simply not at risk of suffering or dying from Covid.
Furthermore, the potential damage to the health infrastructure has either already been done, and/or the risk for more has been reduced greatly. We now have treatments and battle-tested protocols to manage the disease. And the milder disease and uncontained spread means immunity is building up faster than ever, without increasing hospitalizations; this gives "The Curve" (as in, hospitalizations) a much lower peak.
On the other hand, the difficulty to stop this has gone from "very difficult" to "far beyond humanity's current capabilities to deal with". Covid is not alone in that regard (Cancer, death in general, the Dragon…), it's just deeply frustrating to think it was avoidable at some point.
So… we accept it. The risks are lower and still going down, while the trade-offs are becoming far too much to deal with. When people say "but the economy!", it's not to protect the Fat Pockets of Wall Street. Those pockets are already very safe (don't ever let a crisis go to waste). It's to remind you that the jobs, livelihoods, of hundreds of millions of people all across the world are impacted when we choose to put severe restrictions to contain the spread. "It's just money!" you say; but remember, money puts food on the table. You can't value a life infinitely high. At some point, people have to eat.
And I invite you to think about what you're truly worried about. You say you "don't want to lose my sense of taste or smell" for example; well, I lived without one for 14 years, and it still comes and goes since my surgery three years ago (as I type this, it's extremely weak); I can assure you it's not a big deal. Also, Omicron appears not to cause anosmia, you'll be fine.
You say you "don't want to be laid up at the same time as my spouse". But beyond the low likelihood of both you and your spouse getting more than mild symptoms at the same time, also, shit happens, and lots of people have to deal with that during flu season, it sucks for a few days, then you're fine. Once again, not a big deal.
I still haven't gotten Covid and believe me, despite my super low risks, I too am worried about the potential fallout from catching it! And I'm also worried about colon cancer, which I'm predisposed to. And extremely so about Alzheimer's, which I'm also very highly predisposed to.
I understand it sucks to essentially be told "here's something you will catch in the coming weeks/months". It also sucks to think about the risks involved (including long-term risks such as lung capacity loss like @FrankGrimes said). It also sucks to think that we're breathing polluted air that is putting us at risk of cancer, all the time, and that this too could be stopped. And it sucks to be told "you will likely get cancer some time after you're 50. Don't know when or where but if you live long enough, you'll get it".
But do you stop living just because one day you might die?
These are points worth thinking about, but I wanted mention - I think that often healthy/abled people vastly underestimate the impact of something like long COVID. It makes sense to think about trade offs, but if one isn't capable of comprehending one of the potential risks... It makes those calculations less helpful.
The symptoms from post-viral illness (including long COVID) can be profound. On the cognitive side of things, when I first got sick over a decade ago, I couldn't understand speech directed at me if the TV was also on; neither sound made sense. I'd read a sentence 3 times and still not know what it said. I'd forget words, struggle to form sentences. Concentrating on something briefly would make me exhausted for days.
Physically, I could barely walk up stairs. I nearly fainted every time I stood up. Showering made me nauseous. My heart pounded in my ears while lying flat trying to rest. My knees buckled when I walked. Like with cognition, the mildest physical exertion would lay me up for days, possibly weeks.
And that's not even getting into all the other "flu like" symptoms, or gastrointestinal ones, or...
The initial effect for me was that I had to drop out of high school and give up: playing an instrument, rock climbing, reading, hiking, going on vacation, etc. The effect for many adults with long COVID is that they have to quit their job. And while I've improved over the years, I still experience those symptoms during a flare, and I can only go to school or work part time. Some hobbies are still beyond my abilities, and I have to plan even the simplest trip to the beach.
I've seen estimates for long COVID range from 10-35% of cases. I don't think we yet can say whether vaccination and/or Omicron decreases that or not - not enough data yet. But even if only 5% of cases end up being permanently disabling, that's a lot. There's also no way to tell if you personally will get it - healthy, vaccinated people with mild cases can, not just hospitalized folks.
Anyway. TL;DR, post-viral illness sucks, so I recommend people still taking as many precautions as they can during surges like this one. It's possible that even just reducing your viral load if you do get sick could help.
I fully agree with you. But part of the problem is we don’t really know the incidence rates of long symptoms. We know they exist, we know that if you end up in the hospital they’re not uncommon, but that’s as far as we got. We don’t know if they’re treatable, we don’t know what exactly causes them, we don’t know all the possible symptoms, we don’t know whether it can affect everyone, etc.
Dealing with unknowns is difficult but there are ways to quantify all the above and end up with actionable numbers.
My personal take on long Covid is that it seems like too low a likelihood for me personally to worry about. I’m acutely aware of its potential impact, but there are lots of risks I take that may have an impact equal to or greater than long Covid. Such as cycling in some of the most dangerous parts of the city.
The estimates in your post look way off, by the way. I have a hard time trusting any number on this outside of a proper study, but these don’t get past the smell test. Given that Covid cases are anywhere 10x-20x higher than declared number (and this will grow with omicron), even a 5 percent incidence rate would mean hundreds of millions of people currently suffering from long Covid.
Tildes has an extremely skewed vision of the impact covid has on personal health. We have several people here who are at high risk from it (and can’t necessarily get vaccinated), and discussions with someone who is at such a high risk will always involve planning for worst case scenarios, with the risk calculations completely different.
Sometimes though I feel that we’re breeding hypocondriacs here. There is no reason for example for @balooga to have reached a “state of despair” about it, unless I completely missed one of their risk factors.
Taking outsized precautions when you/closed ones are not at risk is akin to never crossing the street because of the risk of getting hit by cars. The consequences can be deadly, but at some point you get on with your life.
Please also understand a few things (this isn’t towards you, but towards tildes), as I understand my position is a bit controversial here:
The estimates I gave all came from studies or ONS data. Granted, some of them might be out of date, and others didn't have controls (which is also tricky, because past COVID infection doesn't always show up on tests, so who is a true control?). The 5% is from latest ONS data. They have long COVID prevalence in confirmed cases and long COVID prevalence in suspected and confirmed cases. I don't think any of the estimates out there apply to uncounted cases, though. So you're right that hundreds of millions is probably a ridiculous number.
They did mention lingering effects from bronchitis. I don't know whether that counts; I urge anyone who isn't sure whether they're higher risk to check with a doctor. That's high quality and highly relevant data.
Anyway, I don't want to make people hypochondriacs. I don't wish my anxiety about COVID on anyone. Maybe if folks understood what post-viral illness can be like they'd still make the same risk calculations they do now. I just — I see the massive numbers we have right now, and how little care some people have for getting sick or getting other people sick, and I despair when I wonder how many will join me. If you (any person reading this) are able to take precautions during this surge, please do. Don't just consider death rates (for yourself or for others). And don't think it's fine if we let every kid get sick — I was just shy of my 16th birthday when my life was radically changed.
I don't think you are making people worry. I certainly never got that impression from any of your posts, here or before.
What I worry about is seeing otherwise healthy people worry for their own health at a level they should not.
I've had to defuse this IRL quite a bit. Things such as "I'm over 35, that means I'm likely to die if I catch it", or "My 4yo is unvaccinated, she will die if she doesn't get her shot soon", or "I saw my friend on the bus two weeks ago and now he's positive, I need to quarantine".
When digging about why people think this way, it always comes down to "I've read about these cases where such and such happened", without taking into account either the extreme rarity of the situation, or factors such as the person in question being immunocompromised etc.
What I've also seen is people shift from one extreme to another. Taking utterly ridiculous precautions, only to then become anti-vax. It's not such an outlandish jump either: Said people get frustrated by messaging that's all over the place and that doesn't end up matching reality and annoy themselves into not caring about it.
As for lingering effects from bronchitis, I am in fact in a similar situation, after having had the absolute worst bronchitis of my life last winter (strep throat, turned bronchitis, turned pneumonia, seriously thought I'd die; and no, it wasn't covid) and still suffering from lingering effects. I'm not here to give medical advice, by the way; "Look twice before crossing and you're unlikely to die" is just not medical advice".
PS to a particular group of people here who enjoys destroying their mental health by going through posts they disagree with and demonizing people by giving such posts the worst possible reading: please stop.
Great. My take is that it seems like a high enough likelihood for me to worry about. But people taking this "eh whatever" attitude make it more likely that I'll get it. And I'm only moderately high risk - there are plenty of people who are higher risk than me, and what I hear from you is that since the risk to you is perceived as low, you don't care what happens to them. Your attitude, taken at scale, kills disabled people. Maybe you're fine with that, but say it directly.
Also, money doesn't put food on the table, farmers and truck drivers and grocery store workers do.
This reading of my post isn’t just incorrect, it’s straight up in bad faith and trying to otherize someone you disagree with.
You’re trying to paint a picture by putting words in my mouth I clearly don’t mean. So, what’s more likely, that I’m an 80s James Bond villain or that you’re misunderstanding my post?
Very well said - you're expressing a lot of what I feel as well. Like you, I'm also not concerned about dying, or really even ending up in the hospital - I'm triple vaccinated, in good health, and am not elderly. I am concerned about the things you've mentioned, namely long covid symptoms. I'm terrified of losing lung capacity (I like biking and hiking), or losing my sense of taste or smell, or having other lingering health issues the rest of my life.
Again, like you, I look around at everyone basically just giving up on prevention and just accepting that they're going to catch it, and I find it incredibly upsetting. Mostly because their decision to do so directly affects me, and there's nothing I can really do about it.
For what it's worth, I'm dealing with these feelings by continuing to try to avoid large crowds, wearing a mask when out in public, and following basic safety precautions like hand washing. I've decided that I'm going to continue to do these things and really try to avoid infection until there's a consensus from multiple health authorities that says the risk of long covid from the dominant strain (or long covid among vaccinated) is very minimal. I think at that point I would feel comfortable going back to a (mostly) normal lifestyle.
I wish others would exercise a similar level of caution until we're further out of the woods.
I returned to teaching in person yesterday. We are down a ton of staff members already, and the quarantine notifications for students keep rolling in — more than I’ve ever had before. I suspect there are many more positive cases in the community that aren’t currently identified, as getting a test in my area is nearly impossible right now.
There is a strong chance we will have to close in the coming days due to a lack of adequate staffing.
Update: nearly 50% of the staff at my school is out today. We’re still up and running.
Are you noticing any changes in behavior from the students and parents?
I haven't interacted with any parents this week, but the students seem pretty okay -- though there are fewer and fewer of them each day. The increasing absences are mostly just a big elephant in the room right now.
stay safe, stay sane, stay strong.
Woke up this morning with a scratchy throat, cough, headache, and runny nose. Picked up a test in the drive-thru at the pharmacy. Guess who's pregnant‽
Best wishes, Augustus. Keep us posted.
Hope you feel well soon!
@kfwyre, @FrankGrimes, @HotPants, @cfabbro
Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated (read: I'm feeling better).
Monday I felt a slight scratch in my throat, but thought nothing of it and attributed it to dry air in the house from using the central heating. Tuesday I awoke with the symptoms in my first comment and learned I was expecting. By the end of the day on Tuesday and all of Wednesday I had those symptoms plus an earache, body aches, and a bad/painful cough. Thankfully I seem to be getting over it rather quickly as by bedtime yesterday my cough had started to be productive. For those of you not familiar with medical terms, a productive cough is one where you're actually coughing up mucous; it's gross, but it generally means you're getting better. Cough has continued to be productive today and the need to cough has been less as the day progresses. Body/head/ear aches are much milder than Wednesday, throat feels fine unless I'm coughing, nose runs only slightly.
The question of where I picked it up is still a mystery. I haven't been unmasked around anyone other than my core group, the same I've seen since the start of the pandemic, in the last month. All of them have also tested since Tuesday and all came back negative and have no symptoms (although the antigen tests taken aren't all that effective on asymptomatic people). I haven't gone anywhere, eaten at a restaurant, talked to a neighbor face to face, zip, zilch, nada, nothing for at least a month. Only my wife and one other person I've seen in the last month don't work from home, so best guess if I didn't get it randomly is through one of those two interacting with the public and managing to give it to me.
I'm glad you are feeling better.
Perhaps it is your bodies way of preparing you for what is to come.
Children are tiny disease vectors. (Luckily for them, they are also extremely cute (your own children that is.))
Congrats! I hope you fail your test, and that this is largely all over in 9 months time!
CDC declines to add Covid testing recommendation to updated isolation guidance despite criticism
The CDC guidance is here.
The California guidance is different:
Your Local Epidemiologist has a good discussion of antigen tests.
I think they do a better job of recommending how to use them and why than the authorities?
FDA cautions against throat swab for at-home COVID tests
State of Affairs: Jan 3
A similar thing is happening in Ontario, Canada (my home province) too. See: Scary Chart
So in response, yesterday our provincial government shut down schools, indoor dining, gyms, and a bunch of other similar things in an effort to flatten the curve.
That's a terrifying chart. Omicron's altitude is making Delta's look like a mere speedbump.
Here is a long thread about UK hospital statistics from John Burn-Murdoch of the Financial Times. The good news seems to be that few people end up in the ICU and infections seem to have peaked. The bad news is that the hospitals are under lots of pressure from non-ICU patients, and infections are still going up among the elderly.
Is it just me, or is it getting increasingly difficult to get tested for COVID in the US these days?
It seems like there are no more drop-in/drive-through testing sites. I called my medical provider and not only do you need to get doctor's approval to get a test, they have closed down my local testing site, which means that I have to travel about 50 miles to go to their nearest location.
My boss lives in an area with it's own local health district that has been infamously proactive on all things COVID related, but they just had the same thing happen where they couldn't be tested without going through some hoops.
Both of us ended up purchasing at-home tests in order to figure out what was happening.
Not just you.
I've been trying to schedule a PCR test at one of the sites near me for over a week now. I've only once even seen openings in that time (and I check multiple times a day), and they were filled before I could even click through to complete the appointment. My local test positivity rate is through the roof, which means that we are operating well beyond testing capacity.
Even the rapid tests are hard to come by. I used to be able to get BinaxNOW tests through Walmart's website easily. Now my colleagues and I use this tracking site to let us know when they pop back in stock, which is usually only for a few minutes at a time.
Same here. I have more PCR test sites nearby than you, but their usage really exploded around the holidays and they capped out last weekend. Probably in part because of the return to schools after winter break. They have since changed their rules to serve symptomatic people only. I haven't been around one since so I'm not sure what effect that had on wait times. I can say that it's basically impossible to get a testing appointment slot now (friends have recommended that I try at midnight when the scheduling system resets), all of the queues I've seen were for walk-ins.
We ordered a bunch of at-home tests but those are both ridiculously expensive and notoriously error-prone. Doesn't give us the warm fuzzies that test availability, which was excellent last year, is drying up as we need it most.
"lol just google it"
-- the President of the United States
out of curiosity, I just checked, and it seems like I could get an appointment for a PCR test on Saturday, if I was willing & able to drive 30 minutes out of town. there are closer sites that are fully booked through Saturday, and don't offer scheduling options past that. or, testing sites run by a different provider with a different booking process that are closer to me, but booked solid until the middle of next week.
this was after googling "covid test near me" as instructed, navigating through multiple different websites, from my county Dept of Health to the two different test providers they link to, clicking through to each location near me, and searching those locations individually to see if they had appointments.
this is in Seattle, which has had a better response to covid than I think most of the rest of the country. but, that also means that there's "how to find a test" pages on the city's website, the county's website, and the state Dept of Health's website. some of them link to each other, some of them link to 3rd party sites, such as the University of Washington which is administering a lot of the testing.
and this was all done on my laptop, with a fast internet connection, and me being quite tech-savvy. if I had to try to do this on my phone, with slow or unreliable internet, or if I didn't know the pretty simple but useful tricks like middle-clicking to open up multiple links at once...oof.
coworker on my team tested positive (fortunately, we've been 98% remote throughout the pandemic, and clamped down to 100% as Omicron hit, so no one else on the team was exposed)
his wife also tested positive, as did his wife's parents who live with them. all vaxxed & boosted.
and his 3 year old daughter, too young to get vaccinated under current guidance.
he posted this in our team's Slack channel:
which of course isn't true, it's not an individual failure, but goddamn it's heartbreaking to read all the same.
Deadly Omicron should not be called mild, warns WHO
The number of cases & hospitalizations are really sky rocketing.
The one silver cloud from What the latest science says about how — and when — the Omicron surge will end
Britain calls in military to help with hospital COVID staffing crunch
U.S. Hospitals Struggle to Match Walmart Pay as Staff Flees Omicron (Bloomberg)
FDA expands Pfizer booster eligibility to kids ages 12 to 15