Kyle Troutman: It’s all Greek to me

Saturday, January 8, 2022

In the past 22 months, I have heard more Greek alphabet talk than when I lived on-campus in my college days.

As it stands, we are in the midst of the grasp of the COVID-19 pandemic’s 15th Greek letter variant — Omicron — with only nine letters left to Omega and the birth of a whole new naming system yet to be determined, according to the World Health Organization.

No letter was felt as much as Delta last summer, a variant that took hold in southwest Missouri quickly and revived the pandemic from meandering to an end.

The spike in cases and hospitalizations due to Delta was heavily felt across the region, and the decrease in cases over the last several months was welcomed.

Unfortunately, winter is here, and the latest Omicron variant is taking over. The new virus is even more transmissible than Delta, though it does not seem to have as heavy of symptoms. People exposed to Omicron tend to get sicker faster and have different symptoms than previous variants, resembling the common cold.

The vaccinated have reportedly suffered less severe symptoms, and there is evidence emerging showing that Omicron does not burrow into the lungs as much as other variants, but that allows it to replicate faster higher up in the respiratory tract.

Nationally, cases have topped 57 million, and deaths number more than 830,000. Omicron made national headlines in recent weeks, but the effect really had not become apparent locally until this week.

Last week, cases in Barry County dropped by a third. This week, they spiked right back up, topping 100 active for the first time since Sept. 15, 2021.

Lawrence County is also seeing a spike, adding 273 cases in nearly three weeks. The Health Department also reported as of Jan. 5, Mercy and Cox hospitals in the area reported a total of 238 COVID hospitalizations. Cox reported only six of their COVID patients were vaccinated and none were boosted.

Personally, I have known more people contract COVID in the last four weeks than in the prior 21 months. Many members of my own family and friends that had perviously avoided the virus have recently tested positive. Fortunately, most have had mild symptoms and not needed hospitalization. However, one extended member of the family was having major difficulties this week.

The story of the COVID-19 pandemic in Barry County has been a volatile one. A total of 44.8 percent of the population is vaccinated, but these people are largely silent about the shot. The unvaccinated and unmasked have been the loudest over the course of the pandemic, at one point disrupting the Monett School Board meeting at the start of this school year.

I have been writing a weekly COVID story since July 2020, and through all of that time, there are a few things I have gleaned as we near two years of COVID.

The initial concern was masking and whether or not to do it. For a period, ironically the least threatening one, masks were required in many places, and the majority of people obliged.

Once the vaccine was rolled out and cases began to drop — as low as less than 10 active in the entire county — I was about a week away from ending the weekly update stories.

Delta decided otherwise. As the new variant took hold and spiked cases to more than 200 active at times, people seemingly became more relaxed. After the Delta variant ravaged the country over the summer, most schools opened with no mask mandates. Monett’s was only for two weeks, then it was lifted.

Now, with Omicron making its rounds, local health departments have been barred from forcing quarantines.

So, during the time of the most transmissible variant of the virus, we are not attempting any type of significant mass organized mitigation.

On its face, it seems 1,000 percent counterintuitive, yet here we are.

Another thing I have learned through my coverage is that by now, not many unvaccinated are changing their minds, and people are tired of the pandemic in general, which attributed to the lesser and lesser precautions.

Last Thursday, I was exposed myself. I followed CDC recommendations and when I sought a test, it was more difficult than I thought. Most places right now only test if you are showing symptoms, and I was not. It took multiple calls to find an at-home test I could buy. I was thankful to be negative.

It is possible Omicron is so prevalent that between those infected and the vaccinated, we could reach herd immunity and the pandemic will become endemic. Or, it is also possible we continue on our charted path and this time next year be talking about the Aleph or Gimel variant.

Until it is over, I hope everyone does the best to keep themselves safe and healthy in this new year, hopefully a year with less old alphabets to keep up with.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or editor@cassville-democrat.com.

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