Opinion: COVID anxiety tightens like a belt around the ribs

Opinion: I’m sick of having uncomfortable conversations about why I won’t see you because you are: a) unvaccinated; or b) have many more contacts that I’m comfortable with. But most of all, I’m tired of talking and hearing about COVID.

Vancouver Sun 5 minute read December 28, 2021

COVID was the uninvited guest at our Christmas dinner.

It snuck in the front door despite all the best precautions, hitchhiking on the broad shoulders of someone who was not only vaccinated but had had a negative test on Dec. 24 before boarding a plane — after a nine-hour delay in Seattle.

We hadn’t seen him for nearly two years. He seems a foot taller than when he left for college in the United States on a full-ride football scholarship. His fatigue was explainable since he didn’t arrive in Vancouver until early on Christmas Day.

The fever on Boxing Day was not.

For the seven of us to be together for Christmas, we’d all done everything right.

We’re all vaccinated — except the toddler.

We’ve all been careful with masking and limiting our contacts for nearly two years. And yet, here we are.

Only a few hours before his test came back positive, a friend and I had been talking about how COVID was creeping closer and closer and about how Omicron has changed the landscape.

Until recently, I only knew of friends who lived far away who had been touched by the pandemic. One had died; another is a long-hauler.

But as the holidays approached, friends who I’d driven up to Whistler with and skied with texted to say that a few days earlier, they’d been exposed to COVID. I waited anxiously to hear their test results.

Then, a friend tweeted her positive diagnosis.

Another friend’s daughter who works in a restaurant tested positive along with four of her co-workers. Their festive plans for a hotel stay, a movie in a theatre and dinners out were swiftly cancelled.

On the 24th, other friends’ plans were thrown out. Their son got sick and tested positive only a few days after returning from Hawaii with his negative test in hand. They spent part of Christmas Day delivering meals to three separate households before the two of them sat down to dinner alone.

Anxiety has tightened like a belt around my ribs. Dread has taken up residence in my stomach that even chocolate can’t replace. I’ve indulged in some magical thinking and considered gulping down Vitamins D and C even though there is absolutely no proof that it would fend off the disease.

And despite all that I thought I knew about COVID, I still have so many questions. The most urgent is: What do I do now?

I’ve spent hours doom-scrolling and now that Canada has passed the two million mark in confirmed cases, I know I’m far from alone.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s COVID information isn’t as definitive about what constitutes a “close contact” as I would like.

“A close contact is generally someone who has been near a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes when health and safety measures were not in place or were insufficient.”

So, sitting beside someone at dinner? Does that fit the definition?

And, what does fully vaccinated mean. I have had two jabs, but the second one was more than six months ago. Does that still count as fully vaxxed? Can I get my scheduled booster later this week or rebook while I wait to see if I get COVID?

I called the toll-free COVID information line, was transferred, warned of long waits. I scrolled through Twitter, checked my email, ate my lunch and cleaned out my email while I waited 40 minutes for a medical navigator to answer.

Yes, to the booster if I have no symptoms. No, to self-isolating unless I have symptoms. And, call again if I have symptoms because the guidelines are changing so fast that the advice might be different in the coming few days.

I’d already tried Google, which didn’t have all the answers and especially not to my specific question about the booster. And, yes, of course I know that it’s impossible to provide answers to fit every unique situation.

I also know how incredibly fortunate I have been living in a place where vaccines have been readily available and the overwhelming majority have not only rolled up their sleeves, but worn their masks and followed the rules and restrictions put in place to keep as many people as possible safe.

But … but. … but …

Like everyone else, I’m weary of restrictions. I don’t want to stay home. I yearn to travel because as beautiful as Vancouver is, I’m growing tired of the local scenery.

I’m tired of constantly trying to gauge my own boundaries of comfort. Am I really fine going to a theatre or a restaurant?

I’m sick of having uncomfortable conversations about why I won’t see you because you are: a) unvaccinated; or b) have many more contacts that I’m comfortable with.

But most of all, I’m tired of talking and hearing about COVID.

I can’t escape it even on solitary walks because passersby are almost inevitably talking about it.

But if I’m tired, I can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion of health care workers scrambling daily to keep residents safe in long-term care and hospitalized patients alive.

I can’t imagine how weary infectious diseases experts must be, bombarded as they are almost daily with new — and sometimes contradictory — information.

As we count down the days to the end of this horrible year of extreme heat, drought, flood and cold, what else can we do but hope for better days ahead.