January 25, 2021

Despite news of a vaccine, so much of COVID-19 remains up in the air. Here’s why you should be cautious and play it safe.

Lately, I have found myself doing wishful thinking about all the things I would like to do when the pandemic is over. I have been ordering a lot of clothes, despite having no hopes of ever wearing them out of the house for the time being. I fantasize that when this ends, I can wear my new Alex Mill Standard Jumpsuit in Cotton Twill and Cuyana Small Structured Tote to the mall. I also think about how I would have spent last December if we were living our usual, pre-COVID-19 lives: I would have been in New York, watching plays, visiting The Strand, shopping at SoHo, and drinking oat milk lattes. None of those things happened (except for the oat milk lattes), but I did buy a beautiful JW Anderson for Uniqlo coat to wear for next December. The far off dream that I will get to wear it someday is what keeps me going as I am cooped up in my house watching Bridgerton. I do this because I want to help to flatten the curve and aid our frontliners. Meanwhile, social media has shown me nothing has changed: people are swanning around, pretending that everything is all right.

Look, I get it. People are social creatures, and this last year has been, quite literally, hell on earth. I am sure you have done the work and stayed at home, too. You have probably completed all the Chloe Ting workouts, so your abs are now a weapon at this point. Self-care is important, but after using up five packs of Baby Foot, your pieds are now bones. There is nothing left to binge on Netflix anymore (but if you want recommendations, go watch The Untamed, a 50 episode Chinese drama with good-looking leads). It is easy to give yourself a reason to be out and about, and then actually go out and do it. Let us face it, the kind of people I am talking about probably could do it and face minimal consequences.

But before you do that, ask yourself, do you deserve it? You probably do, but so does everyone else. Frontliners and essential workers who put their lives on the line every day for our safety deserve a shindig or a relaxing vacation too, but unless the situation gets better, they probably will not have one anytime soon. People who are the sole-caretakers of immunocompromised parents cannot afford to be sick or infect their parents. Service workers who rely on your patronage are unable to get that patronage if their place of employment gets shut down because of irresponsible behavior.

You can throw that party next year. (Photo from Unsplash)

How can you truly enjoy yourself, anyway, when the risks are so high? I found myself wondering this, when social media was rife with photos of Kendall Jenner and her cohorts, enjoying her birthday party and very obviously not social distancing from each other. Or when I see people doing non-essential travel, voluntarily subjecting themselves to all the testing involved and a 14-day quarantine before actually starting the fun part of the vacation. What is normally a one-week sojourn (depending where you go) is now a month and a week affair. Following that, you will need to add three more weeks to make the entire jaunt feel like a good decision. You will also have spent more than the normal amount money for the average trip. Was it worth it?

Why subject yourself to the stress of airport travel? (Photo from Unsplash)

As of writing, there have been 16 cases of the latest COVID variant found in the Philippines: 12 in Bontoc, two in the Benguet town of La Trinidad, 1 in Calamba (misdiagnosed on December 10 as the original variant) and the first, officially declared case on January 13 from a local traveler who went to Dubai (on non-essential travel). It is not currently known what the effect of this new version is on the local population, but this is how it has affected the rest of the world: Lineage B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom is said to be 70% more transmissible than the current, widely circulating version. Now on a strict national lockdown, the first week of 2021 in the U.K. saw a 30% increase of hospitalized patients from the last week of 2020, with a 40% increase above the high first seen in the first wave. This time, no amount of clapping for The National Health Service is going to lift any spirits.

Once assumed to have hit herd immunity after seeing 79% of the population struck ill during the first wave, the Brazillian city of Manaus is going through an onslaught of new infections. They are watching the collapse of their public-health system for the second time. Premature babies are being evacuated out of the city due to a dangerous lack of oxygen supply. The Manaus variant, known as P.I (or B.1.1.248) shares a mutation with the aforementioned U.K. version. N501Y is a spike protein that more easily sticks to human cells and makes it more infectious. P.I also has what is known as an “escape mutation” which is found in the South Africa variant (B.1.351). 

According to scientists, the mutation helps the coronavirus evade the antibodies gained during earlier infections, and is less susceptible to antibody drugs. The guarantee that being infected once protects you is now no longer safe.

It remains to be seen whether the new variant will make it harder for vaccines to do their job. Infectious disease experts are optimistic that the vaccine will still offer protection for serious illness, and the variant, at worse, will allow for less effectivity in preventing asymptomatic infection. Despite the optimism, I caution you to remain vigilant. So much of COVID-19 when it first hit was unknowable. Initially thought to be a disease that festered on objects is now officially an airborne illness. Once known as the “Boomer Remover” it can also infect younger people, in ways that could change their lives forever. So it stands to reason that the way things are with the vaccine and new variants could also change. This is a quickly evolving virus, and the loss of life or a serious, debilitating sickness for you or anyone else you might infect is just not worth it.

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