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Opinion: For the love of Christmas, don’t slack off with Omicron

A masked woman walks at a Christmas market
A woman walks in an area decorated for Christmas in London, where the chief medical officer warned the COVID-19 situation is like to worsen as Omicron spreads.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. This is the final Opinion newsletter of 2021; I’ll be back on Jan. 8, 2022, when our outlook on the new lap around the sun is still hopefully sunny, at least more than it was the last time itwas early January.*

I say that because by the time you hear from me again, we could be gripped by another coronavirus surge supercharged by normal winter seasonality plus the dastardly Omicron variant, a mutated version of the coronavirus believed to partially evade immunity from infection or vaccination (whether it typically leads to less severe disease remains to be seen). In other words, a lot of people who believed they were safe will soon become infected, and because Omicron spreads remarkably fast, our hospitals stand to be overwhelmed yet again.

So yeah, Merry Christmas.

What we must not allow to become overwhelmed is our resolve to beat back another surge, a feat we in California accomplished with the summer Delta wave (especially compared to other large states), and something we must do with a few minimally inconvenient precautions this holiday season, according to a Times op-ed article by Dr. Eric Topol. (By the way, I’ve found Topol’s Twitter feed to be one of the most indispensable follows of the pandemic.)

And when I say Topol’s recommendations are minimally inconvenient, I mean it — especially considering the threat posed by Omicron and Delta. This isn’t March 2020, and the blunt instruments we had then are safely stowed away now. Just try to hold your holiday gatherings outdoors, and if you can’t, wear a mask (preferably an N95 or a KN95). Use rapid tests as often as possible, get vaccinated and boosted, and stay home if you’re sick.

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Topol’s precautions are so mild that it’s almost embarrassing to be reminded of them, yet reminded of them we must be. COVID-19 fatigue (as in impatience, not the long COVID kind) is real, as evidenced by cocksure declarations from the “real” corners of America that the pandemic is over because we coastal elites are chickens. As much as I hope the wishful thinkers are right and we’re wrong, I’ve been taunted as a COVID doomsayer enough times just before the death counts go up, right on schedule, to have much use for knee-jerk optimism.

And think of the healthcare workers, who’ve endured enough rounds of insulting hero worship over so many surges that they deserve to be spared another one. And yes, those doctors, nurses and other hospital employees have had it with these empty gestures of gratitude. Writing on our op-ed page, Dr. Jillian Horton calls it “muffin rage,” as in, thank a healthcare worker with a baked good, and see what happens. Spoiler alert: It’s not asking you for the recipe.

As the son of an L.A. County-USC Medical Center nurse who was skating toward a richly deserve retirement before the pandemic hit, I can tell you that “muffin rage” is a thing. I can also tell how our Christmas went last year: Late on Dec. 24, after finishing another long shift, my mom came over and treated herself to a cup of coffee on my front porch. Exhausted, she wished her three grandchildren “god jul” (Norwegian for merry Christmas), apologized for leaving so soon and drove home.

That was before vaccines went into millions of arms, and before several hundred thousand more people died. If we heed the advice of Dr. Topol and the righteous rage of Dr. Horton, it doesn’t have to be that way again.

*Early January is approaching, meaning we’re almost a year out from the Capitol riot. We’re still in the fact-finding phase of naming and punishing the failed coup plotters, a fact that ought to frighten anyone who expected some kind of resolution to the most serious threat to representative government in generations. But, says Jonah Goldberg, there is some good news: Among Republicans, the clout of the former president who sicced his supporters on Congress on Jan. 6 appears to be waning. L.A. Times

This can’t help with Omicron: The L.A. Unified School District is backing off its vaccine mandate. The district stood its ground with (now-former) teachers and staff who refused inoculation, and parents spooked by the specter of returning to at-home schooling rushed to vaccinate their children. But the 30,000 students who failed to meet the district’s January deadline will be given until next fall to vaccinate, a move that The Times Editorial Board says will have consequences: “It’s going to be difficult to make any future mandate on any topic stick if the district backs down because a relatively small percentage of parents revolt.” L.A. Times

She’s a grandmother now. Decades after an illegal abortion killed her classmate, she fears more deaths. Joyce Johnstone, a Times reader and resident of Los Angeles, wrote a letter detailing how the memory of a 15-year-old student who died of an illegal abortion still haunts her, and concludes “she would have lived” if the law was different at the time. In the latest video installment of our Hear Me Out series, Johnstone worries that we’re headed to an era in which grandmothers like her must mourn the unnecessary deaths of young women desperate to end their pregnancies, just like the mother and grandmothers of her classmate more than 60 years ago. L.A. Times

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We can do better than Diablo Canyon. The last operating nuclear power plant in California is slated to go offline in 2025, stoking understandable worries that losing the largest single source of emissions-free electricity will set the state back in its fight against climate change. But those concerns must be weighed against the harsh reality, says The Times Editorial Board. Diablo Canyon sits dangerously close to a earthquake fault, and with the Fukushima disaster in Japan, we saw what can happen when a natural disaster causes nuclear catastrophe. The power plant’s imminent decommissioning should prompt California to come up with cheaper, safer and cleaner sources of renewable energy. L.A. Times

I guess we’re supposed to start taking UFOs seriously, but that’s really hard reading this playful description of a compelling close encounter that was detailed in a recently declassified government report: “Navy pilots flying from the USS Nimitz spotted a 40-foot white object resembling a Tic Tac mint levitating erratically above the waters off the California coast. As the pilots approached, the Tic Tac — despite lacking wings or any sign of propulsion — rose to meet them midair before speeding instantly away, vanishing. The report did not conclude what the Tic Tac or any other UAPs are, and it could not attribute them to secret technology developed by the U.S. or any adversaries.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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