Making decisions in the omicron era

photo of Wellington boat marina on a very calm sunny day
Wellington Harbour February 2022: all serene on the surface

Today I found myself explaining to a friend my decision not to meet her for a few weeks. I didn’t sound rational even to myself. Why would I meet other friends and not her? Because her health is fragile — and daily cases of Covid-19 have rocketed from a handful to almost 15,000 — and maybe my common sense is kicking in.

It’s a strange old time in Aotearoa.

For two years we kept Covid-19 under control with some of the most successful policies in the world. Result: the vast majority of Kiwis have complied with controls and mandates without ever knowing anyone personally who was hospitalized or killed by the coronavirus. Our pandemic was not your pandemic. So February’s turnaround has seemed pretty strange.

  • Now, just when the rest of the world is watching Covid-19 retreat, we’ve finally and suddenly lost control as omicron enters the country and spreads exponentially.
  • Just as we are named the “freest country in the world,” a couple of thousand Kiwis vent their frustration with constraints and desecrate the capital city, aggressively demanding “freedom.”

Thank heavens for our politicians

They are heroes. Not a popular opinion or a common one, I know. But imagine consenting, even choosing to be responsible for making decisions on behalf of all citizens at such a time: the strong and the vulnerable, law-abiding and feral, frail and healthy, old and young, wellness extremists and epidemiologists, students and truck drivers, farmers and police and baristas and bus drivers, tourists and businesses and hospitals, the incarcerated and the homeless, citizens at home and abroad, anarchists and far right terrorists and nice old ladies like me. Imagine doing this in the face of relentless, monumental uncertainty and an unpredictable novel coronavirus.

They obviously can’t please everyone. [Stop it, Rachel. Stop now.]

Making personal decisions when omicron is about

Anyway. Deep breath. We still have rules about getting tested and self-isolating, though they’re impossible to enforce consistently. (How do I know I’ve got Covid-19 without a test which is only available if I’ve got symptoms or… How do you self-isolate at home if there’s only one bathroom for five people? That sort of thing.)

Some decisions are out of my hands. I love that. Just tell me what to do! My three gigs in March and April have been cancelled and our dance group has stopped rehearsing for 3 weeks. OK, fine.

However, like everyone else I have to make many personal decisions about how much risk to take. Will I join a Covid-riddled student party and spit on police officers? I don’t think so. Will I hide at home and slam the door? That won’t do either.

Irrational decisions about catching and spreading Covid-19

We’re told the omicron surge may peak within 2 or 3 weeks. I notice that my decisions are irrational and inconsistent. That’s fair enough, because the situation changes day by day. Week by week, they make a certain sense to me. I’ll do something that’s a bit unwise, then I’ll decide not to repeat it for a few weeks. Some examples:

  • I’m still going to Pilates classes at our gym, which has lots of open windows. But I cancelled Active Stretch class today because we puff more, so more aerosols. For the same reason I think I’m done with Pump until after the wave passes.
  • I’m doing choir by Facebook: they are rehearsing in masks and live streaming so I can sing along.
  • Last weekend I had coffee on a park bench with a friend but I’ll skip our neighbourhood dinner this Sunday (10-14 people indoors).
  • ​A week ago I went to an indoor theatre-at-home solo show (loved!) but then decided, that’s the last time for a while.

Decision making: values, practicalities, emotions, personality and logic

How do we make decisions in this situation? Theories vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here’s a rough and ready subjective analysis of the process, as observed in a solitary case study — me.

  • Certain values rear their heads and duke it out with each other. Concern for others. Respect for science. Law and order. Social justice. Community strength. Self-preservation.
  • Then there are practicalities: “But how?” is the overriding question.
  • Emotions: ignore them, deny them, disown them if you like — but they may well be in charge of all decisions, especially these.
  • Personality: I’m always me, you’re always you. We’ll always tackle problems differently.
  • Logic takes us only so far in a situation like this. Practicalities often take precedence.
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23 thoughts on “Making decisions in the omicron era

  1. I hear you Rachel. It is a very strange time. One day at a time for sure. Stay Safe. XXX

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You too! We are all doing our crazy best.

  2. Myra Kitchenman says:

    Excellent decisions Rachel. Have you secured an N95 mask yet? Keep two meters away from everyone and only meet outside. Don’t go to any inside public spaces unless you absolutely have to. Stay masked inside and out when around others. When the wave passes in I predict more like a month at least… you’ll be able to assess again. One day at a time and take no unnecessary risks. Patience is the theme here. This wave will pass. Best best wishes. Tough times. Your triple vaxxed levels are growing and that your passport out.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’ve now got 7 “proper” masks, one for every day of the week. Thanks Myra for good advice from one who has been through it all… and again… and again.

  3. cedar51 says:

    I’m finding it hard as well. But in a way, it only affects me because I need to be mindful of me.

    The on again, off again events cancelled, price gouging of the new to NZ @ RAT test v the strangled and late results for a PCR. Traffic jams at the testing sites, some of which are in high traffic areas to start with. Price gouging on a whole cabbage now $9.99 via local f/b page, and grocery shelves empty (note not TP) because staff are getting sick… I’ve not seen my GP for months, phone consult only. Missing catching up with friends… and so on.

    But I guess it will still be “one day at time” and at some point the pinprick light we often see at the end of the funnel, will glow so brightly the tunnel will collapse.

    Cheers Catherine in the Auckland region of New Zealand

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Good to hear from you, Catherine. At least New World is now stocking RAT tests. I love your image of the tunnel collapsing with the brightness of light.

  4. Prue Densem says:

    Excellent analysis Rachel! Definitely close to home now as a granddaughter tests positive (Otago student flat all +ve) and a Wellington grandson has to isolate with girlfriend (household contact)😷

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes yes yes. FInally we know what it has been like for the rest of the world. I hope and expect that both grandchildren get over it quickly.

  5. I’m sorry this has hit your country so hard. It is strange to read about Omicron in the present, when it has waned elsewhere. Our mandates were recently lifted, and we are finally free. I’ll be thinking of you and hoping this will pass quickly.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you Anne for your understanding. We at least have the benefit of having seen it play out in other countries.

      1. John and I have mingled freely with people not wearing masks, and we haven’t gotten the virus yet. Three households on our street got it. We were vaxxed and boosted.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Vaxxed and boosted: that’s the key! Good news

      3. We still wouldn’t be surprised if we caught the Omicron variant. It’s not as dangerous for us as the original virus.

  6. Cathy Cade says:

    Omicron has been found to be more easily spread, which probably explains your rise, especially when people are relaxing their guard. But the good new is it is less dangerous (on the whole. The vulnerable continue to be vulnerable.) And the vaccinations reduce it to flu-like symptoms for most.
    Hopefully, Omicron is Covid-19’s last gasp.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We’ll ride it out as best we can.

  7. Your case by case evaluation of COVID risk is very familiar. I hope you’ll be well.

  8. Despite our government doing away with all restrictions we are still wearing masks and social distancing. However, the majority are casting all precaution aside!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Some new social conventions based on courtesy and considerations the may remain forever. Or for my lifetime at least. I will watch with interest.

  9. VJ says:

    You are so right on. We have to take each decision, one at a time. Seems you’ve got a pretty good hold on things.

  10. Ally Bean says:

    Omicron is still lurking around in this country. We’re going to maskless-ness too fast, under some false idea that it’s over. Not everyone is fully vaccinated, but it’s heading toward spring and people are being reckless. It makes me tired and sad to watch it unfold.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    It is challenging to be responsible for our own protection after most mandates have been lifted here. My daughter and grandchildren did get Omicron but stayed away from us. They had been vaccinated and wore masks. We are in our 70’s so at the highest risk despite boosters. We wear our masks in shops, the library and at church. We do not go to movies, indoor dining, gyms or concerts. We meet our vaccinated friends at their or our homes and share take out meals without masks.

  12. pamela978 says:

    Rachel…It’s so good to hear from you again. I have spent the last 2 years being pretty isolated here in the NW US. I spend time with just a few people, who I know are as careful as I am, although I’ve heard of fully-vaccinated people getting sick…the Long Form of Covid is especially frightening to me. I turned 75 at the beginning of March and realized that I’ve been depressed for the last 2 years. Angry and Frustrated, too. I’m coming out of it now, more via acceptance than any particular resolution. I still have some art-making left in me.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Graphic Grannie is a gift to the world. I wondered what you were up to and this is painful. It was surely a breakthrough to realise what you’d been going through and to find a way forward. It’s true that there is stuff to grieve over as we reach this late stage of life. When that’s done and acceptance arrives, time to relish every moment of delight and creativity that remains, don’t you find?

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