The omicron surge couldn't have come at a worse time.
After two years of things like mask-wearing, fights over mask-wearing and constant risk calculation over mask-wearing, people are exhausted and more divided than ever. Add in a healthy dose of mixed messaging and conflicting information, and we've got a real problem on our hands.
One example of that mixed messaging: The Well, UNC-Chapel Hill's in-house news source, published--and later changed--an article from UNC Health telling people not to wear KN95 masks because they "remain in short supply" and "aren't necessarily better if they don't fit properly."
Yet most medical experts--as well as our own state officials--have said you should, in fact, ditch your cloth mask for a medical-grade one. Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, there isn't really a shortage of masks anymore, and respirators like the KN95 provide significantly higher protection against the omicron variant, especially given how infectious it is.
These mixed signals are nothing new, leading to confusion and mistrust about what guidance to follow. Should you get tested before ending your isolation? Are at-home tests even reliable? How careful does one need to be, really?
The blame can, in part, be attributed to the federal government, namely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose constant flip-flopping has spurred a crisis of credibility.
Still, conflicting information is only partially to blame for the crisis at hand. Instead of getting tougher on covid, we sometimes appear to be giving up.
Even the White House seems to have had enough.
We have vaccines now and omicron appears to be milder, thankfully, at least among those who are vaccinated. Nonetheless, our pseudo-surrender does come with a price. As cases are surging, hospital staffs are pushed beyond their limits. Our lives are disrupted anyway, not out of precaution, but out of necessity. Flights are being canceled, surgeries rescheduled, schools closed, because there simply aren't enough healthy people to keep things running smoothly.
We seem determined to let omicron run its course, but as the virus burns through the population, what carnage is it leaving behind? More deaths. Sick children. Vaccinated people who are now saddled with long-term illness and disability. But if we can't rely on our institutions for protection--or even reliable information--the virus itself may be the least of our worries.