Talk about a perfect storm… a surging variant, a ridiculous cold snap, and this period of time between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is barely working… and those who bother showing up are basically phoning it in. The reporting arm of the health department in Alberta has actually given up. “Yeah, we think today’s number is around 4,000… use that for now. Ask us next year. See you January 4th”.
Who can blame them; the temperatures are dipping to the levels where it doesn’t matter whether you measure it in Fahrenheit or Celsius because it’s the same number. You know, sort of like the snowfall forecast we got around here two days ago… you can expect 10 (mumble) of snow. Ten what? Centimetres? Inches? Whatever.
Well… not all things are “whatever”.
The staggering number of new cases around the country (and the entire continent… and, while we’re at it, the entire planet) beg some questions that require some answers but, due to all of the above, the simple responses are not so forthcoming.
Trying to consolidate the numbers with respect to new cases and hospitalizations and ICU admissions has been a real exercise, but what’s most important aren’t actually the case counts; at least, not around here. Dr. Henry made a statement which alluded to the fact that there are far more cases out there than we know about. That’s been the case since the start, but it’s far more pronounced in recent weeks. Her guess is 3x to 5x, but that’s what I’d have guessed months ago. These days, we don’t have the proper testing infrastructure to get accurate numbers and, even if we did, that majority of people aren’t going to get tested. Depending who you ask, in fact… people are being told not to go get tested. You’ve got symptoms? Pretend you have it. Isolate, take care of yourself… and don’t bother us unless you need medical attention. And those who actually tried to go get tested found multi-hour waits, or got sent home with a rapid test, or found that the testing site that’d been shut down because of the cold.
A quick note about those rapid antigen tests: they’re nearly useless. I say nearly, but not entirely… only because they probably work just fine if they’re used correctly, and if the test patient has a high-enough viral load to register. Unfortunately, neither of those things seem to overlap enough to get accurate results. A positive result certainly means you have it, but a negative result doesn’t mean anything.
If you’re taking a rapid-antigen test – and I am speaking now from direct experience, having subjected myself to be a guinea pig for a friend who was trying to figure out the validity of these things – you need to scour deeply — approaching your brain — for ten seconds a nostril, complete with long, uncomfortable swirls — to get a valid result. I took a few of these tests; a gingerly tickle of the inside of your nostril does nothing. Even a medium-sized dip into your nose doesn’t do it. Unless that gargantuan Q-tip makes your eyes tear up and cause you to cough, you didn’t do it right. And it was only when I did that *and* was symptomatic that I got a positive result.
Anyway, that aside, getting a positive test these days is somewhat secondary to what it implies. Around here, with our enviable “fully-vaxxed” rate, it’s pretty good. The daily new case numbers (5,000 on paper, closer to 100,000 in my opinion) are not translating to hospitalizations. At least not yet, but for now, that’s really good news. As a general statement, if you have a normal healthy immune system and you’ve been double-vaxxed or better, the overwhelming evidence implies that you’ll suffer some cold-like symptoms at worst, and that’ll be it. It still needs to be taken very seriously because, of course, you might end up passing it along to someone who wouldn’t handle it so well… and none of that has changed. Older, immune-compromised, at risk people… they’ve been taking the necessary steps to stay safe, and we need to do the same for their benefit.
The relative success story (for now) that we’re seeing here seems to be consistent with other places with high vaccination rates. Those with lower rates are being hit hard, but only because the sheer volume of cases at some point is going to translate to an overwhelming amount of more serious cases.
Looking at the graphs below, you’ll see that hospitalization rates have not gone up dramatically in Western Canada. Ontario and Quebec are indeed seeing more hospitalizations, but barely an increase in ICU cases. Manitoba, too… to a lesser extent. But West of that, numbers are actually down.
I’ve added a third row of graphs today. While the top two rows are the cases, hospitalizations, ICUs and deaths since September 1st, the bottom row are the daily new case counts starting at the very beginning of the pandemic. They’re interesting to look at for numerous reasons… like, you can see clearly the different waves… but have a look at Quebec, from day 1. Near the very beginning, in that first little wave, there’s a notable spike. That spike was from early May, 2020… when over a 3-day period, they saw more than 4,000 new cases and over 300 deaths. It’s interesting to note just how insignificant that little spike looks compared to what came after, especially what’s going on now. But, back then… that was honestly the moment were all thinking that we’re totally screwed. That we, here in BC, were two weeks away from a tidal wave of cases and deaths.
We’ve learned a lot since then, and one of the most important is the realization of just how effective these vaccines are. We see today’s skyrocketing case numbers and we’re nowhere near as freaked out.
On that note… I haven’t written about Trump in a while, but it’s worth mentioning this: For as long as this pandemic has been going on, he’s been talking out of both sides of his mouth. He initially played it down, no big deal, it’ll be gone in a few weeks… and it became the rallying cry of his most-extreme base. His fervent supporters were as anti-mask, anti-vaxx and anti-science as he pretended to be… notwithstanding he took great pride in being responsible for funding Operation Warp Drive which indeed had a lot to do with developing these miraculous vaccines. You know, the ones he claimed we didn’t need and don’t do anything anyway because the virus is no big deal BUT I’ve created the greatest vaccine ever to combat the China virus BUT you don’t really need the vaccine BUT yeah, I got the vaccine, as did my entire family… we all got it quietly while nobody was watching, as did every Republican politician in Washington BUT really, you’re fine, forget vaccines and masks BUT yeah, we all got the booster too BUT….
Recently, and this is the eyebrow-raising part, Trump has been announcing to his followers that yeah, he got the booster and, you know what, they should get it too. But rather than listen to their fearless leader, they boo him and disagree with him. He, of course, doesn’t care… but why is that? It’s a 180, and it needs to be understood.
From the people’s point of view, they’re so deeply sunk into that mindset that they can’t, at this point, admit it’s wrong. They’ve already drowned in the Kool Aid. A lot of them can be heard saying they’d rather die of Covid than get the vaccine, and many of them will get that wish granted. Trump doesn’t care; he never did. But he does care about making himself reasonable and relevant for 2022 and beyond, so now he’s pandering to the bigger Republic base… those that aren’t so anti-everything. And that leaves those fringe people completely abandoned, discouraged and betrayed. And, in a bit of trouble if they don’t change their mind because that’s the demographic that makes up the vast majority of pandemic-related deaths. The anti-vaxx crowd.
Our BC fully-vaxxed rate is 90%. The majority of people in hospital for Covid come from that remaining 10%. The math isn’t complicated. And the American fully-vaxxed number isn’t even close to 90%… more like 62%. Unfortunately, for some select demographics, it could get quite ugly.
Last year, at exactly this time, I wrote a relatively optimistic piece about how the worst is over. Vaccines are just around the corner, and once we all get them, this will all have been a bad dream. Well, that was a little naïve, but I’m going to say the same thing again. Given the direction of Omicron and where we are with all of this, by this time next year, Covid won’t be a distant nightmare from the past that’s still haunting us. Rather, it’ll be an endemic annoyance for which we’ll have an armada of weapons: Vaccines, treatments, prevention therapies, whatever. Every day is one step closer to C19 becoming the common cold of the future, but we’re not there yet. Next year…
So… wishing you all a Very Happy, Prosperous and – most of all – *Healthy* 2022. All the best… and Cheers!