Misunderstanding the Novel Coronavirus

Here’s what people seem to misunderstand about the novel coronavirus in 2021.

The Delta variant – just one of the newest variants circulating the globe now – sheds approximately 1000 times as much as the previously-dominant variant. Even vaccinated people, whose primed immune systems keep it mostly at bay, can carry this around for a time, freely sharing it among others they approach.

The more people who carry the virus around (in any variant), the more chances these viruses have to mutate yet again. The *longer* people carry the virus around, the more chances it has to mutate.

Vaccinated people’s bodies recognize and kill off the virus more quickly, limiting its life cycle despite the high shed rate of Delta. Isolating themselves after exposure, or upon ANY symptoms, or any suspicion, is the best way for even vaccinated people to avoid spreading it to others. And masks still help!

If a vaccinated person isolates for the life cycle of the virus, their body will typically overcome it fully. This means that even if a mutation developed during that time, it would be destroyed by the immune system without spreading to new hosts. But only if they don’t expose anyone else.

While Delta spreads the fastest and most aggressively, there are many other variants that are circulating around the world right now. There is a Lambda variant already, which means there are eleven NEW known variants of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The original virus mutated to a more contagious version in 2020, before we started cataloguing the variants and giving them designations like Alpha, Delta, and Lambda. But this pandemic has been going on so long, and with vaccines still too few and far between, that eleven MORE variants have been discovered and identified.

All viruses mutate as they replicate. This one is no exception. But with its incubation time, the fact that some people can spread it without ever developing symptoms, and its extremely contagious nature, it has a longer reach and a greater footprint than many that came before.

Now we are tracking at least 11 new mutations, plus the previous dominant strain, that have all established their own successful chains. Every one of them will continue to mutate as it spreads. Every variant has the potential to spawn a new, worse variety, like the Delta variant.

The Delta strain has a shed speed that attempts to outpace even an inoculated immune system. While it may not overwhelm a body that is primed to fight it off, if it keeps ahead of the body’s defenses for a time, it can keep spreading, with more chances to find an unprepared host.

The only way we will overcome this virus as a species – the human species – is if we can all work together to survive long enough to get effective vaccines to everyone. On the planet. This means that we must help each other survive from a distance: Eat. Rest. Heal. Safely.

There is no “island” in our population where people can afford to turn away from this pandemic. When the former President of the United States denied the severity of the virus, and caught it, he doubtless had the best care money could buy, and he survived. Many more have not.

Every infected person creates the potential for a new variant to beat our existing and developing defenses. No one is safe until we are all safe. We MUST work together to succeed in this. It’s NOT “just a flu”. It DOES kill people. It CAN ruin a life even if the body survives.

This is serious. This is life or death for almost everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have immunity, you may know or love someone who doesn’t. For them, if not for you, PLEASE do your part.

This pandemic continues to worsen. We are literally running out of time, and no one knows how long we have left before a new variant emerges that might get around all of our existing vaccines. Starve the virus of prey by distancing, masking, washing, and paying attention.

Everyone has someone to lose. Don’t be that loss for someone you care about. And don’t lose anyone else you love, either. Wear a mask in public. Get vaccinated. Practice physical distancing, not social distancing. Keep in touch, but do it safely. It has to be now.

Right now.

We all need some little victories

Five months of quarantine, working at home or not working at all, and we have had good and bad days. But then wildfires grew from seasonal to terrible, and we’ve been stuck inside all day and night due to the pervasive smoke in the tiny backyard that was once our safety valve to the cabin fever that I know is challenging so many people these days.

Don’t get me wrong for a second: I know how lucky we are to HAVE a safe home at all, especially during wildfire season and this pandemic. It’s just that we had adapted fairly well to the temporary strictures of limited grocery shopping, extra cleaning and caution, and suspending literally everything else we wanted to do lately. We KNOW we’re lucky.

But when even the tiny bit of equilibrium we had maintained was spun off kilter, things started to break down again.

Last night, I realized that maybe what we need are some little victories. Even tiny little benchmarks can give you a sense of accomplishment, and when everything seems to be in stasis — when it seems like we are constantly holding our breath, all day, every day — having something to look toward and work toward, however small, might be the next rope we can cling to, to pull ourselves back toward solid footing again.

Months ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do each day, each week, and each month. The daily items were small: a few minutes of stretches in the morning, 4000 steps on my cheap pedometer (a relative measure, but one that made me feel sufficiently active), a free Duolingo lesson each day, and a personal goal to clear out my email newsletters whether I read them or not, so that I didn’t have even that miniscule burden piling up on me. The daily goals were fair, but even those slipped at times. My weekly and monthly targets didn’t even come close.

Fast-forward to the present, and we will have to see what tiny things we can do now, even all indoors if that’s what it takes. I don’t care how simple they are: anything we can work on and potentially check off a list, even a list of only one or two things at first, can be the difference between focus and floundering. And focusing on something that is possible, can make the difference between overwhelm and holding it all together.

Holding it all together for a few hours gives you hope. Doing so for a few days gives you momentum. And keeping up that momentum for a few weeks means you have formed a new habit, and THAT can bring you new equilibrium.

As people talk about “finding a new normal” in pandemic times, I prefer to talk about a new equilibrium. Things will never go “back to normal”, and with all of the challenges facing us as a country and a world today, that can only be a good thing. We don’t need to go BACK to how things were; we need to find a way to deal with life NOW, for today and tomorrow.

When we focus on the moment, things don’t always feel so overwhelming. Once we can manage today, we may find that we can spare some energy for new ideas, for tomorrow, and for our fellow humans everywhere. And that is a balance that we can use to help ourselves and each other, to make things a little better each day.

Big steps come after. Today, put a little victory or two in sight, and start with that.