“In this corner,” you may not be a contender to be boxing's heavyweight champion of the world, but the referee’s advice applies to us all. At the start of a bout, the ref typically brings the combatants together in the middle of the ring, and he gives some instructions about the fight and his final words, “And protect yourself at all times.”
The opponents fist-bump their gloves, the bell rings, and the contest begins. Despite the brutality of boxing and the shattered dreams and broken lives, the “Sweet Science” has been riveted into the American culture and psyche.
The Friday Night Fights sponsored by Gillette, the razor blade company, almost had the weekly status of the Super Bowl in the 1950s. This program had the panache of Monday Night Football and became a pivotal event primarily for the blue-collar working class on the East Coast. Most kids at that time wanted to grow up to be a baseball player or a fireman. My dream was to be the ring announcer!
What's the COVID connection here?
We here in the upper Midwest had a reprieve from the virus up until fall 2021 set in. In some communities, the vaccination rate was a respectable 70%, but there was a very casual attitude toward social distancing, and the wearing of masks was becoming an irrelevant inconvenience. Aggressive hand washing fell by the wayside.
On the way to the Promised Land of Normalcy, we ignored the scientific observation that the immunity from vaccinations from last February and March was waning, and the vaccine protection was less robust. And too many people mistakenly felt they were safe because they had had COVID and survived. They are not protected! And new studies are showing up to 40 percent of those who had COVID and survived have long-term health problems. Never mind the unvaxxed who decided, well, something else entirely that makes no sense.
So now we have the perfect storm. Immunity against the virus is rapidly declining. Next time you’re in Walmart or the grocery store or post office, observe how many people are masked (few) or distancing (not really).
Sporting events whether inside or outside are packed shoulder to shoulder with spectators. And with the onset of another cold, dark winter, outdoor dining is no longer feasible in much of the US. Having a meal with our mittens on is not particularly appealing. In other words, the honeymoon is over. Elvis has left the building. The party is over.
Hospitals—in particular, emergency rooms and intensive care units—are at near capacity. Again. There is a shortage of healthcare providers to care for these patients, and in some rural areas, there are simply no resources or beds at all.
We can, however, protect ourselves at all times. No fist bumps (elbows are okay). The bell is ringing for round three.
What You Can and Should Do Now
Try these practical interventions to marshal the resources we recognize as effective. If you get knocked down, you may not get up, and your life may be changed forever.
Become fully vaccinated and that also means a booster shot, which is now almost universally available to everyone in our community. The booster shot is designed to bolster the decreasing immunity that typically starts to fade about six to nine months after the first series of vaccinations. Kids too can get started.
If you had COVID (if you, for sure, tested positive), get vaccinated. You may not have built up immunity. You’ll need a vaccination card in many cases to get in and out of the country, to travel, and for admittance to some venues.
Social distancing means social distancing. We are advised by responsible health professionals and health policy experts to maintain that six-foot space between ourselves and our neighbors. We now know the virus is spread through the air; this is hardly rocket science. And wearing a mask means wearing a mask. Is indoor dining really that critical for our survival? Is the casual trip to a big box store to buy more toilet paper mission critical? And is it sensible to risk our lives to fly to our 50th high school class reunion where we will not recognize anyone?
If you think, “Well, I’m fully vaxxed, if I get COVID, it won’t kill me, I won’t end up in the hospital,” think again. If you think the risk is worth it, what about the risk to others who are weakened? What if you have no symptoms but spread the virus to someone who is compromised? On a plane, or train, or bus? Think about others.
We need to understand the significance of the breakthrough infection. This is a documented COVID infection for the fully vaccinated. This occurs infrequently, perhaps at a rate of 1 or 2% of all fully vaccinated patients but among those who do become infected, there is the ominous shadow of the long COVID syndrome, which can be a devastating combination of brain fog, shortness of breath, and global feelings of unwellness for which there is no specific treatment.
Bottom line, take-home message
This is not the time to pop the champagne cork and sing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Another nuclear winter is upon us. We had a chance to shed this scourge. We did a poor job. Now my advice goes back to the boxing ring: “Protect yourself at all times.”
Ding. Round 3.