Friday, June 21, 2024

Two years of evading COVID feels like an unending dodgeball game

I finally have Instagram perfectly trained (or perhaps it has me perfectly trained … I’ll worry about that later) to show me exactly the kind of irreverent memes I love.

My favorite from this week: “Having not gotten COVID yet feels like I’ve been hiding in the back of a two-plus-year middle school dodgeball game and the front lines have been thinned.”

That’s pretty much exactly how I feel these days as I watch so many people suddenly isolate themselves after a usually unexpected positive result for the virus. Even the president has it again, and he’s not only had his vaccine but his booster! The president sees way more people than I do on a daily basis, but still.

My state, Veracruz, is still green on the COVID stoplight map. Even the state-level map (updated Monday) shows most municipalities in green, with Xalapa and Coatepec (a nearby city) in yellow as they have been for weeks now. I was surprised to see that it still looked so … safe.

Because, while it’s anecdotal, I can confidently say everyone around me is dropping like flies. It really does feel like a reluctant game of dodgeball at this point, a game for which my desire to maintain my reputation among my teachers as good and obedient was the one and only reason I didn’t flat-out refuse to participate. I’ve always hated dodgeball, which in my book is hands down the worst game.

But like it or not, here we are, the reluctant kids in what used to be the back, half-heartedly trying to either get out of the way or maybe just get hit softly so the damned game can be over already. The die-hard dodgeball enthusiast on the other side is shouting with glee as he (it’s always a he) focuses on taking us out one by one.

Exhibit A: late last week, I got a message from one of the women in my group of friends: she had COVID. We’d had a get-together several days before at her house. I guess this is it, I thought.

Thankfully for the rest of us, she’d very clearly contracted it the day after our get-together from another friend who’d received a positive diagnosis. And thankfully for her, she’s had little more than the symptoms of a mild cold, her suffering mostly from boredom. Whew.

A few days ago, my boyfriend and I were supposed to go have a beer with some friends visiting from out of town. They messaged the day we were supposed to go out to say that they, too, had COVID and would have to cancel. They’d also thought they had a simple cold, but a test revealed they didn’t. Whew again.

But then today, yet another friend told us that her son’s stepmother had tested positive. Apparently, she’d been around the children on the morning of their birthday party and knew her symptoms were suspicious but didn’t say anything until yesterday. Sigh.

Getting a COVID test in my city isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s not the easiest thing to do in most places now that the omicron variant is spreading like wildfire in so many places of the world.

In Xalapa, the test is not free (at least not anywhere I’ve seen). It’s about 300 pesos on the low end, plus the time off for standing in a long line, getting the test and waiting for the results, plus the cost of transportation to get there and back.

I fear that many are simply choosing not to get tested at all.

On top of all that, you have to make an appointment. Even I, with more than 300 pesos and some time to spare, am having to force myself to get the test even as my inner reluctance tries to convince me to do something better with my time and money in the absence of “classic” symptoms.

Of course, in these uncertain times, anything could be a symptom. The president himself was surprised to learn he had it when his only symptom had been waking up a bit hoarse.

So, of course, I wonder and worry. Was that tight throat this morning a symptom of COVID or my regular allergies? Was that stomach upset yesterday something I ate or COVID? Was my fatigue PMS or COVID?

I waited until after my test to turn this article in, by the way; the test was negative, and I live to dodge another ball!

Last month, as I observed the positive (as in good, not infected) numbers in Mexico, I didn’t dare express too much optimism. Believe me, I know better than to dare the gods by crowing about how well we were doing. But I was hopeful when I saw our low numbers in Mexico, even as the rest of North America and Europe were quickly accelerating on the downward slope of the omicron rollercoaster.

Had Mexico’s impressive adult vaccination rate helped us in ways that countries with so many holdouts had no hope of achieving? My suspicion was that yes, it had. So has the continued widespread use of masks.

Everyone I currently know who’s been infected has only suffered mild symptoms. Most are younger and around my age, and none, at least so far, have had to head to the hospital or even take anything beyond ibuprofen. They’ve all received their vaccines, something that’s surely prevented more serious illness and hospital stays.

But there are so many unknowns. What would the pandemic look like if 95% of people in the world had all been vaccinated as soon as immunization was available? What would the pandemic look like today if there were no vaccines at all? To what extent has the vaccine protected us from contagion in the first place, and to what extent has it protected us simply from severe illness?

How much has the tourism industry’s reopening affected us in Mexico? Nothing about the United States will ever not affect Mexico, and it’s not surprising that some of the hot spots here are places where there is a lot of crossover between the two countries.

The next several weeks will be telling. And even though this variant is clearly spreading, I’m hopeful that we’ll mostly be OK since most of us down here are vaccinated (hospitalization under this variant is six times higher for the unvaccinated; 70% of COVID patients in Mexican hospitals are unvaccinated).

Most of all, I hope it continues to spare young children, for whom no vaccines are on the horizon.

Take care of yourselves out there, everyone. And if you get hit in this game of infection dodgeball, I hope COVID hits you as gently as possible.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and her Patreon page.

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