In recent months, we have seen a growing number of parents crowding school board meetings across Long Island, protesting the state mandate requiring students to mask up in schools. In public spaces, from the mall to your local coffee shop and grocery store, many people no longer wear masks, believing they aren’t necessary anymore.
Last week, we were hit by a harsh dose of reality: Seemingly out of nowhere, a new strain of the coronavirus, which scientists called the Omicron variant, reared its ugly head, first in South Africa and then Israel, several Western European countries, Hong Kong and Australia. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said over the weekend that the strain had not yet been detected in the U.S., but it could very well be here. On Wednesday, we found out that it was.
South Africa discovered the strain first because health officials there were investigating why the country went from 200 coronavirus cases a day only recently to some 2,465 cases on Nov. 25, according to the Associate Press.
What does this tell us?
One, we must not think we have vanquished the coronavirus. It is still lurking worldwide, and anywhere and any time an infectious strain of the virus arises, there is the potential for it to spread to us here, on Long Island. So we must continue masking and social-distancing protocols to limit its transmission.
This new strain is potentially more insidious than the Delta variant, which has ravaged the world, because the vaccines may be less effective in providing immunity against it. Scientists are studying whether that is the case, and it could be weeks before we know the answer for sure. You should be vaccinated just in case — and to fight the many other Covid-19 variants.
And we should vaccinate ourselves ASAP. That includes teenagers and children. New strains of the virus emerge in the unvaccinated population. It’s there where the virus can continue to spread, and any time it is transmitted from one person to the next, it has the potential to mutate. Mutation — the ability of the virus to re-engineer itself — is its survival mechanism. If it does not spread, it cannot continue to mutate.
We are in the battle of our lives here. Like it or not, we must remember that this holiday season.