S.E. Williams

Collectively, we await more information..  

Throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend word of a new COVID-19 variant—Omicron (B.1.1.529)—nearly crowded out all other news.

South Africa reported news of the variant to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24. And according to WHO,  “The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected [in South Africa] on 9 November 2021.

The stock market dropped precipitously on Friday in response to the news. The same day, in an effort to control the spread of the new variant the president announced he is  restricting travel from South Africa and seven other African nations including: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi beginning Monday, November 29.

Commenting on the issue during the weekend, President Joe Biden said he was proceeding cautiously regarding the variant admitting, “We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly.”  

Why we should pay attention to Omicron

Concerns regarding the Omicron variant appeared to explode almost overnight largely because of the worrying signs observed with a sudden spike in COVID 19 cases in South Africa. Experts warn it could evade immunity received from previous infections, that it may evade the protections of the COVID-19 vaccines due to the variant’s complexity and large number of mutations, and that it may be even more transmissible than the Delta variant.

The good news is that based on the limited data currently available, the Omicron variant may present with milder symptoms, but experts caution it is too soon to know for sure what its impact may be until more data is collected and analyzed.

As noted, there is a lot that remains unknown about the Omicron variant, and the hope is that we will not have to learn too much more about it, the hard way.

We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly.”

President Joe Biden

If the recent past has taught us anything regarding the coronavirus, it is that we must remain vigilant in respect to its  continuing dangers and respectful of its ability to take lives with little notice.

We’ve also learned that COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Yes, there are breakthrough cases, but recent data clearly shows the majority of those with COVID-19 filling ICU wards and dying of the virus today, are primarily those who choose to remain unvaccinated.

But these are not the only lessons

The national divide over vaccines being fueled by those on the right, continues to leave this nation vulnerable for further COVID spread and more suffering. Experts remind us that the more the virus spreads, the greater is the potential for more variants to evolve.

The bad news for Americans in this regard is there is no qualitative, national infrastructure tracking  and tracing  anywhere near the quality of process in place in South Africa that enabled that country to identify the Omicron variant so quickly. Yet, because those on the African continent are at a disadvantage regarding availability and access to COVID-19 vaccines it is more difficult to control the spread of COVID-19 there.

In contrast, COVID-19 vaccines are readily available and free in the U.S. and yet this country ranks way down the list (51st) among nations, as it relates to the percent of population fully vaccinated. Certainly, there are those in this country with real fears and concerns about taking the vaccine and it might be possible to assuage and mitigate many of their concerns were they not being fed a continuous stream of mis- and dis-information by those in leadership and/or the media with obvious political agendas. The most apparent, being efforts to keep the country in COVID-19 related chaos at all costs—including human lives—for the sole purpose of positioning candidates on the right for the coming election.

Now, with news  the nation may find itself at another COVID-19 crossroads, I question how well positioned we are in the inland region to weather another COVID storm especially with the number of local residents who are fully vaccinated lagging behind both the state and the nation. 

How prepared are we?

The percent of eligible residents five years of age and older in San Bernardino County fully vaccinated as of November 23 is 54.4%.

(source: sbcovid19, Screen shot courtesy S. E. Williams)

In Riverside County the number of fully vaccinated, age five years and older at 56% as of November 24 is not too much better than San Bernardino.

(source: rivcoph.org, Screen shot courtesy S. E. Williams)

The number of fully vaccinated in both counties represents those who have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series from a provider either in, or outside, the respective county.

Meanwhile, 62.78% of California’s population has been fully vaccinated as of November 24 and nationally the fully vaccinated rate is 59.5%. Both the nation and state have higher vaccination rates than either Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

Preparing for what may be the inevitable

“When you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC on Saturday, commenting about the newly discovered variant and noting how he would not be surprised if the Omicron variant is not already here in the U.S.

He went on to warn that this is something the nation really needs to pay close attention to, and we should be prepared for something that could prove to be serious. Of course, Fauci left himself an out by offering the following caveat, “It may not turn out that way, but you really want to be ahead of it.”

Among the things that we also learned this year is that vaccines and boosters appear to be the only way out of COVID.

If an Omicron crisis comes to pass we can expect the state and/or nation will not be shuttered again because in a capitalist society the economy appears to take precedence over everything—even life. 

In addition, if the battle gets intense as we’ve experienced regarding COVID both last year and this, we also know people will resist wearing masks and continue advocating against the vaccine. In this regard we must all do our part to encourage those within our sphere of influence to get vaccinated or to follow up and take their booster if they are already vaccinated.

We must stress to those who took the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine to seek out a Moderna or Pfizer booster as experts report efficacy of J&J begins to wane two months after the vaccine is administered and CDC suggests taking a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a booster.

As the holiday season goes into full swing and the continuing uncertainty regarding COVID-19 is exacerbated by the bad news coming out of South Africa regarding the Omnicron variant, in addition to getting a COVID-19 vaccine or taking a COVID-19 booster shot here are some things the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe this holiday season:

  • Wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth if you are in public indoor settings if you are not fully vaccinated.
  • Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission.
  • Outdoors is safer than indoors.
  • Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
  • If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a gathering.
  •  Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
  • Follow this link for additional information.

With growing concerns over the potential dangers of the Omicron variant, it is as important as ever that everyone remains vigilant in the coming days and weeks as more information becomes about the variant and its impact is made available.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. Beyond writing, Williams’ personal interests include stone-carving, drumming and sculpting.