The omicron variant of COVID-19 has burned through Kansas with breathtaking speed. (Clay Wirestone illustration/Kansas Reflector, virus via Getty Images, flag image Wikimedia Commons)
The latest COVID-19 wave has swept through Kansas, bringing not only illness but a feeling of beleaguered powerlessness.
The last two years have left those of us who take the pandemic seriously exhausted and frustrated. The situation shouldn’t be this challenging, not with the vaccines and treatments we have available. We shouldn’t be battling science-denying conspiracy theorists and partisan hacks looking to make a quick buck from the frightened.
We shouldn’t be here. Yet here we are.
Despite the momentary melancholy, let’s all grit our teeth and push through. There are simple steps everyone can take to shorten this wave. Here are five.
Order your free tests
Just this week, the White House unveiled a website where each family in the United States can order a batch of four rapid tests to detect COVID-19. The tests and shipping are free. If you haven’t done so already, visit the website and place your order.
As I wrote back in September, and as Audio Astra columnist Eric Thomas wrote earlier this month, these simple tests offer both peace of mind and ease of use. While they’re not as sensitive as laboratory-based PCR tests, they return positive results when people are at their most infectious. Used smartly, they’re a vital tool out of this mess.
The biggest barrier thus far? Availability and cost. That’s why the White House’s offer can’t be beat.
Wear a better mask
Remember at the start of the pandemic when we were all told that wearing anything over your nose and mouth helped protect you against COVID? A cloth mask, a handkerchief, a torn T-shirt? That was then, this is now.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance: “Masks and respirators … can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”
What changed? The virus. The original strain didn’t transmit as easily as the delta variant, which didn’t transmit as easily as omicron. Better masks will protect us all.
Get a booster shot
Two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, protect you from serious illness. However, as scientists tracked vaccinated people throughout 2021 and as COVID-19 mutated, it became clear that we could use backup. A booster shot enhances your ability to fight the virus and may make the difference between unpleasant flu-like symptoms and a mild case of the sniffles.
When we’re battling a novel virus, improved protection could make all the difference.
Unfortunately, too many Kansans haven’t gotten their booster dose. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, only 623,216 folks have received a third shot. In a state of nearly 3 million people, that’s a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Help those in need
If you’ve been on the ball throughout the pandemic, you might already have drawers full of fantastic-quality masks and rapid tests. You were at the head of the line to receive your booster. What can I do, you ask me.
How about helping others? The Charity Navigator website includes a section rounding up highly rated COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. Take a look and see what you can do.
While our country has struggled to respond to the pandemic at times, others have fared far worse. As Charity Navigator notes: “At issue are economic constraints, inadequate supply of testing kits and vaccines, lack of infrastructure and insufficient, qualified medical personnel to administer vaccinations, among others.”
Don’t be a Gorsuch
If you’re looking for someone to define “entitlement,” just take a look at Neil Gorsuch, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, NPR reported that Gorsuch refused to wear a mask at the court’s conferences or arguments. Fellow justice Sonia Sotomayor, a longtime type 1 diabetic, “did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked,” according NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, which means she has been forced to participate remotely.
The rest of the justices, like decent people, masked up. Don’t be a Gorsuch and put your own sense of self-entitlement ahead of other people’s legitimate concerns. (The justices issued an unconvincing denial of the story Wednesday.)
That goes for you too, Kansas Legislature.
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