Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Handling Omicron uncertainty.,


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ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

We’re learning more details about the Omicron variant — and they’re troubling.

Scientists in South Africa may have confirmed one of the worst fears about the variant, saying it appears to be spreading twice as quickly as Delta, until now the most contagious version of the coronavirus.

Researchers there also released evidence yesterday that the new variant appears to be capable of dodging immunity gained from a previous infection. As our colleagues Lynsey Chutel and Richard Perez-Pena noted, that means it could potentially erase a layer of defense that humanity has won slowly and at immense cost.

A week into Omicron’s documented rise, there’s still a lot we don’t know. The new variant is a reminder that dealing with uncertainty will be a regular part of our lives in the pandemic era.

“What’s so difficult about this particular moment is that many of us had been feeling some relief after getting vaccinated and boosted, having our children back in school, and seeing our friends and family members again,” my colleague Christina Caron, a reporter covering mental health, said. “But now there’s this sense of ‘Oh great, here we go again.'”

I spoke to Christina to help us make sense of the moment and for tips for dealing with uncertainty.

What are the consequences of having so much that is newly unknown?

My colleagues and I on the Well desk were recently discussing how many of us are having “worry burnout.” At this point, nearly two years into the pandemic, there’s a sense of whiplash from the nonstop news cycle — not to mention the ever-changing public health guidance. It’s challenging to continually try to assess what risks you or your family are willing to take.

Are there lessons from earlier in the pandemic that apply to this moment?

I think a big one is that the scientific process takes time. It can be fluid and unpredictable, and our understanding of the virus is continually changing. We cannot expect quick answers tied up neatly with a bow, and as hard as it is, we need to exercise patience.

Uncertainty has always been a part of our lives in one way or another, but it’s difficult to imagine a time when it has taken center stage in this many ways for such an extended period of time. I can’t speak for anyone else, but what has helped me become more comfortable is to try to focus on the here and now. It’s a cliche, but the concept of taking it one day at a time and living in the moment has become essential, because it can be overwhelming to fixate on what might happen in the future.

What are your other tips for dealing with uncertainty?

Practice mindfulness. Meditation can teach you that while there will always be external stressors, you don’t need to be dominated by those problems. Being mindful can help you remember to return to the present when you become distracted, which can be useful in curbing ruminative thoughts. [Here’s a guide to mediating.]

Cultivate “flow.” The state of mind where you become so engaged that time seems to fall away is also useful during periods of uncertainty. Flow doesn’t come when you passively watch TV or listen to music. It’s more of a blend between work and play. For some people, things like yoga or gardening might generate flow. For others, it might be a jigsaw puzzle or cooking an elaborate meal.

Focus on what you can control. When the news of Omicron surfaced, I was initially very concerned, and the continual churn of anxious thoughts became exhausting. Most of my worries centered on my daughter, who recently turned 5. So I decided to get her some better fitting masks because I noticed her current ones kept slipping down her nose. Then I scheduled an appointment for her second dose of the Covid vaccine. Those two simple actions helped me feel calmer.

We asked readers how they were approaching this next phase of unpredictability:

“At this point, I’m desensitized to Covid news. I no longer have the energy to get worked up about a new variant. I’m vaccinated and boosted and am trying to live my life in this new normal. I now view the dangers of Covid like driving in a car: I put on my seatbelt, wear my mask and continue on with my life.” — Cecelia, Indianapolis

“Until we have more information about Omicron, I think it’s better to be as cautious as possible. So for me it feels like going back to the very beginning of the pandemic. I have three vaccinations, and I hope that’s helping at least partially against Omicron. I have reduced the contacts outside my family to a minimum.” — Wolfgang Lynen, Munich

“I have never felt this burned out, tapped out and weighed down. I’d be mad at the folks who still believe this isn’t real, and that vaccines are suspect, but I just can’t summon the energy. I’ll be staying close to home, practicing as much low-cost self-care as I can and working on projects around the house — again. Groan.” — Boleyn H. Willis, Durham, N.C.

“Ordered more comfortable N95 masks that perform well in lab tests. Making list of things to stockpile if Omicron disrupts the supply chain. Going out now because I may not later. I will adjust my plans to perceived risk when more is known.” — Alan Drake, New Orleans

“I’m no longer OK with putting my life fully on hold, and I’m not exactly sure how I’ll cope if things continue to go downhill. I’m 37 and it’s cliche, but I’m in the prime of my life. I struggled last winter, and dread feeling that way again. But I am vaccinated and have received the booster, so for now I’ll just cope by continuing to live as I have been and hope to someday see the light at the end of the tunnel.” — Michelle Craren, New York, N.Y.

“I feel pandemic fatigue setting in deeply. Where I once was “all in” for wearing masks and vaccination, I find myself more and more irritated with the media hype about ongoing Covid developments. I am becoming more skeptical and hopeless. In order to cope, I will get my family boosted and continue to wear a mask. But I wonder if my son will ever get to go to school without a mask. I wonder if my daughter’s wedding in May 2022 will be hindered by Covid. Is herd immunity not a thing? When will this end?” — Emily, Boise, Idaho

“As someone who lives with chronic illness, I’ve never known a life of certainty. I feel like the rest of the world is getting a poignant look into what it’s like to live with chronic conditions. I plan for success as much as I can — wear a mask, get boosted, maybe don’t go to that indoor concert, be honest with friends and family about my safety plan — and then be ready to pivot as necessary. I might not be living the life I imagined, but I’m still living, and that’s still something pretty extraordinary, don’t you think?” — Anna Peshock, Louisville, Colo.

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