You have probably seen that as of today, the COVID-19 variant Omicron has been identified in our state, here in Middlesex County. I am so grateful that folks are taking advantage of COVID-19 test sites, even if they are not always as accessible as they could be. Thoughtful, responsible people are doing their best to get tested when they can. I welcomed President Biden's news that rapid testing will be reimbursable come this January. I am strongly advocating that Governor Baker begin making it possible for people to access free rapid tests sooner than that (without having to wait until January or deal with the bureaucracy of reimbursement).
I have spent my week on zoom calls with a variety of epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors, pediatricians and public researchers talking about what the Delta variant means today and what we know so far about the Omicron variant. The best advice I was given about understanding Omicron is that we are still in the early stages of really knowing what the impacts of the variant will be in regards to severity of illness, hospitalizations, and how easily it will escape and infect individuals with our current vaccines.
Here is what they do know: it seems to spread more quickly, reinfecting those who have had COVID-19, and we should expect some level of protection from severe sickness. WE JUST DON'T KNOW if this is true for all age populations or for immunocompromised individuals.
So what is at the root of the panic? Well, for communities and counties that have low vaccination rates, the virus will spread more quickly and has the potential to harm more people at a faster rate, causing more sickness that could overwhelm our hospitals and disrupt our work and school life schedules. Even if no one is experiencing severe symptoms it means that 1. The infected person is now a vessel to pass it on, and the more people pass on the virus the more opportunity it has to mutate, which is how the omicron has been welcomed into our world. 2. Even if symptoms are mild, it will require the individual and their close contacts to quarantine, which is an additional loss of time, income and schooling. Many people in our community can not afford to lose additional time as work or income.
I will share more with you as I continue to meet with the Department of Public Health and learn more about how our state will continue to respond to this latest news.
In the meantime, what we do know is to 1. Get Vaccinated 2. Get Boosted 3. Wear a mask when indoors whether it is required or not, and 4. Strongly recommend that you are testing before gathering indoors with friends— if you are able, use rapid tests the day of attending an indoor gathering with people from outside of your home. (I am pushing for free test distributions). You can find information about testing sites in Cambridge here: https://www.cambridgema.gov/covid19/testing.
A few things to keep in mind: IT IS NOT rude to inquire about someone(s) vaccination status. If you have COVID-19, it's not your shame to hide, it is a virus that people catch. Most people are making the best possible choices to keep safe and to keep others safe based on the information they have.
We will also get through this, and in the meantime, take deep breaths and make use of the incredible scientific and medical achievements that have guided us so far. We are in this together, and we are not hopeless or helpless.