Last week, the night before two Texas friends of mine were all set to fly out to the Pacific Northwest to visit their children and grandchildren for Christmas, they got the dreaded call. Despite being fully vaccinated, a son-in-law and grandson had just tested positive for COVID. The next day their son tested positive and the next their daughter. The grandparents traded their tickets in for vouchers for future who-know-when travels.
The bright spots? No one was hospitalized or died; the son got the worst of it: he spent three highly uncomfortable days in bed with fever, aches and pains. The 60-something grandparents found out before they made the trip thereby avoiding the likelihood that they'd get end up isolated in a strange hotel room. They also wouldn't be two of the thousands of people stranded in airports, their plans canceled by too many pilots and other airline personnel testing positive for COVID-19.
Christmas 2021 was supposed to be when all of us could get back closer to normal, at least among families equipped with vaccinations and booster shots. But then came the Omicron variant armed with evasive tactics and a galloping pace. Suddenly the long haul is looking even longer.
Unless, of course, you're one of the survivors who continue to believe the whole coronavirus thing is a farce, that Omicron is like a mild case of the flu (tell that to the 50-year-old Harris County man who died of it) and that masks are an infringement on our constitutional liberties. Then you know that everything is fine except for what you consider overreaching government edicts.
Right now, Houston is definitely of several minds about what to do. Malls were filled with pre-Christmas shoppers (some masked, many not. Just wait for the returns!) but so were drive-thru lines at Walgreens, CVS and area medical facilities with people trying to get tested or a last-minute vaccination.
At one specialized running shoes store in Sugar Land, known for its employees' expertise in fitting just the right shoe on a customer's foot, this painstaking and up-close care was being undertaken by mask-less workers. A call back to the store later asking why no masks were being worn, elicited the response: "Personal preference." Is there any more selfish phrase these days?
Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II, seeing the increase in positivity cases and trying hard to keep kids and teachers in the classroom, announced last Thursday that his hopes of lifting the mask mandate with the start of the spring semester had been similarly dashed by the virus surge.
In a further attempt to slow the spread of the virus, House announced that the district will be offering free PCR screening tests on campuses to students and staff. Other opportunities for the tests during the winter break will be available starting this Thursday, the only requirement being advance registration
and a student's ID number.
The Centers For Disease Control, in recognition of the increasing problem of staffing medical facilities because yes, doctors, nurses and medical technicians can get COVID too, attacked the problem by decreasing the amount of time it is recommending that healthcare workers sit out after being infected with COVID-19 from 10 to seven days.
This was greeted with howls of protest from National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the United States who issued a press release stating "Shortening the isolation time for COVID-positive asymptomatic health care workers will only lead to more transmission."
Right now the good news in Harris County is that the need for hospital beds including ICU beds has not approached a critical level. But our positivity rate is back up to 10.2 percent in terms of the sheer number of positive cases, with a seven-day rate of about 308 new cases per week.
Several Houston restaurants were forced to cancel diners' holiday reservations — saying they had too many people out with COVID to put together the meals.
So here we are at the tail end of 2021 with people still getting sick, spreading COVID, missing work, isolated from their families and getting ready to miss days of school. And we still have New Year's Eve to go with its crowds and drunken salutes.
Although the bittersweet, haunting tune of Auld Lang Syne has never seemed more appropriate.