Maybe Omicron is a good thing?
Well. Here we are again. As I write this on Wednesday, Austin Public Health has just announced that we’re back up to Stage 4 of the COVID Risk-Based Guidelines, because “the Community Transmission Rate, test positivity rate and the 7-day moving average of hospital admissions are spiking” as a result of the Omicron variant. (See more on that here.) The Chronicle office is still open, but we’re back to a skeleton crew working in the building, with all the meetings and production systems reverted to fully digital. We’ve had one staffer contract the virus, and a number of others who’ve had friends or family test positive or display symptoms. Our newly minted protocols for testing, contact tracing, and quarantining have gotten a workout, and have worked, I guess. And now we’re hunkered down. Hoping that this fourth version of the spike burns itself out faster and with less lasting damage than the original, or the “second wave,” or the Delta variant.
And there are reasons to think that may be the case, that this new variant is a light at the end of the tunnel, instead of just the latest in a series of semiannual gut punches to the human race that it appears to be. This “novel coronavirus” may not be sentient – may not even be alive, technically – but it’s not stupid. If it wants to thrive long-term, it can’t go killing off its hosts. So it’s mutating, evolving to be more contagious, but less virulent, less dangerous to us, its hosts, so it can keep living with us, and thriving.
We’ve been through this before. COVID’s great-great-granduncle, the Spanish flu of almost exactly 100 years ago, ran a similar course, killing an estimated 500 million people – one-third of the global population – before deciding to settle down and live with us instead of against us. After the first deadly outbreak in 1918, the H1N1 strain started to mutate almost immediately, in a process known as “antigenic drift”; new outbreaks the next two winters were progressively less deadly, and by the mid-1920s, it had become what we now know as the seasonal flu: still occasionally deadly, but nothing to shut down society over. (And that was a hugely successful genetic strategy; every flu outbreak of the past century has been a direct descendant of that one strain.)
So that’s the scenario I’m looking forward to. I’ve actually told people over the last week that, if someone offered to infect me with Omicron right now, I think I’d say yes. I’m pretty healthy and seem to have a good immune system, so yeah, bring it on; the odds are pretty good, and what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, right?
Then last night I woke up with a sudden fit of uncontrollable shivering – not cold, just steady shaking, plus the odd feeling that no matter how deep I inhaled, I couldn’t get enough air. It lasted about half an hour, then went away completely, with no aftereffects. So, did I have a 30-minute version of COVID? Or was it something else? Or am I about to come down with the full-blown thing?
Watch out what you ask for, right?
See you next week.
Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro at austinchronicle.com.
A version of this article appeared in print on December 31, 2021 with the headline: Public Notice: What Doesn’t Kill You …
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