By Nicholas Boke
Editor’s note: Nicholas Boke is a freelance writer and international education consultant who lives in Chester.
In late December, Rutland Board of Aldermen member Matt Whitcomb asked the big question as he and his colleagues puzzled over the possibility of enacting mask mandates.
Rutland Herald reporter Gordon Dritschilo explained in a Nov. 24 article that Whitcomb asked the question after making a few general comments about Covid-19.
“I’m very empathetic to the fact that the people [are] fatigued,” Whitcomb said. “They did what they were supposed to do. They vaccinated. They sacrificed the last year.”
Then he asked the big one:
“When does this end?”
The virus responded. As though on cue. Immediately. Later that day we learned that B.1.1.529 — now renamed the Omicron variant — had shown up in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong and was carrying an extremely high number of mutations that might generate further waves of disease by evading the body’s defenses and, perhaps, the vaccines.
Since then everything — the news, the variant and the travel bans — has spread rapidly.
As of 7:16 a.m. Monday, Nov. 29, the virus had shown up in seven European and seven African countries, Israel had shut down, and the UK, European Union and U.S. are closing off air traffic with much of southern Africa.
The World Health Organization has upped the ante on the threat, Reuters [news service] tells us, saying “‘the number of mutations in this variant is ‘concerning’ and that it could suggest an ‘increased risk of reinfection.’”
And Dr. Fauci has told ABC’s “This Week” that — of course — the variant will show up in the U.S. and — perhaps — we’ll be prepared for it and — probably — we’ll know more in a couple of weeks.
Maybe there are a few silver linings?
Maybe the anti-vaxxers will quiet down in Rotterdam, letting the fire brigades finish their cleanup. Maybe Austria’s lockdown for the unvaccinated will go without incident, allowing that country to get a handle on the Delta variant. Maybe some of those Americans who’ve been complaining about how masks deprive them of their freedoms and vaccines are a plot to do whatever the crazies have decided might be done, will begin to get it.
What’s the “it” they need to get?
It’s the same “it” that Alderman Whitcomb needs to get.
The coronavirus is likely to continue to worsen as long as we give it time and space to mutate and as long as we offer it unvaccinated hosts to sicken.
We do, however, know a few other things. The first, of course, is that nobody knows when it will end. Second, nobody knows what’s actually going on at the moment. Finally, nobody knows what’s next.
Mostly, what we have at the moment are lots of those “known unknowns” that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld introduced us to almost two decades ago.
One thing we know for certain, however, is extremely frustrating.
We know that the virus doesn’t care how tired we are of the inconveniences and uncertainties. It doesn’t care whether we’ve done what we were supposed to do, It doesn’t give a damn about our sacrifices.
Oh, and we shouldn’t forget that timely pre-Omicron prediction that German Health Minister Jens Spahn made about what Germany would look like at the end of the winter if things kept going as they were: “Germans will have been vaccinated, recovered or died.”
I’m no expert. Omicron may not be as bad as it might be. Or, a mutant that prefers hooking up with other coronaviruses over connecting with people or something like that may appear.
But, whatever the case, the simple fact of the matter is that the pandemic hasn’t ended, isn’t likely to end soon, and we may have a lot more “sacrifices” to make before we reach that end.
Sorry, Alderman Whitcomb, that the answer to your question has to be so definitive.