December 17, 2021

by eric

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats, The Second Coming

It’s been a fall full of surprises. The school year started with the Delta wave cresting, and indeed both kids had classmates test positive in August and September. But we were fortunate, and neither kid caught COVID, and we settled into a stable state. In our area, mask mandates were applied again, soon joined by vaccine mandates–with predictable but (locally) muted protests.

My university, like many others, resumed in-person instruction despite the Delta wave; but with no in-classroom responsibilities I mostly continued working from home. The strain is starting to show, though–despite more regular work hours, my projects and my motivation languish. Several of my staff quit to take other positions: evidence that interpersonal bonds are fraying. Sudden inflation pushes industry salaries ever higher, too.

We continued our eager awaiting of the kids’ vaccines, and our patience was tested by ever-lengthening timelines. Pfizer finally submitted the EUA for 5-12 year olds in September, but it took until November to get fully approved. I was fortunate to be checking my email when the clinic at my son’s school was announced and snagged him a pair of slots. He got his second shot after Thanksgiving, and we now can look forward to less restrictive quarantines from school in cases of close contact, I think.

In response to evidence of waning efficiency, we picked up boosters for ourselves as well for good measure, at a city-wide clinic run with ruthless logistical efficiency at the Amazon headquarters.

My folks came for a lovely visit at Thanksgiving, the first time we had seen them since June. It was a very welcome interlude from a miserably rainy fall–an all-time record for September-November in Seattle, which is terrifying to contemplate. We were grateful for our new roof and gutters!

December, though, brought news of a new variant, Omicron, first identified in South Africa. While at this writing it appears less likely to lead to hospitalization and death than Delta, it spreads incredibly rapidly relative to what we’ve been used to with COVID to date. Neither immunity from prior infection nor from even triple vaccination is a guarantee against illness, thought they do appear to mitigate the more severe outcomes. With little broad appetite for (or outright hostility to) any sacrifice or real disruption to the status quo (let alone a lockdown or similar), an enormous holiday wave is inevitable. Even if most people avoid the worst outcomes, disruption of day-to-day life seem likely simply from everyone being sick at once (doctors, bus drivers, grocery workers…). And we must expect that, mostly out of sight, vulnerable people will suffer and die, and many others will face a long, slow recovery back to health. It’s the darkest time of year.

And today brings yet more unwelcome news: the 2-4 year old vaccine trial failed because the low dose did not trigger sufficient immune response. I expected it during the Delta wave, but now it seems truly inevitable that our youngest will catch COVID before he can be vaccinated; we are left to trust the probabilities that he’ll be okay.