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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: The perils of ‘COVID fatigue’

At a media briefing last week to discuss the latest COVID-19 news following the emergence of the new omicron variant, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) was asked directly if she’s concerned about “COVID fatigue” as residents have endured nearly two years of pandemic news, restrictions and precautions.

“That is the reality we live in,” she said. “Just look at the numbers. People have said, ‘We’re over this.’ ”

As a new wave of cases begins to hit during an expected winter spike, we can hope that this season won’t be nearly as bad as last year, before the vaccine was widely available. But it seems we must rely on individuals to do the right thing, to receive vaccinations and boosters, to stay home when feeling sick, to wear masks in indoor spaces and to follow the many precautions that have become all too familiar. The governor indicated that sweeping orders coming from the state, such as universal mask requirements or business closures, seem unlikely.

Last week, Ms. Hochul declared a state of emergency in response to the omicron variant, the mutation that was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 9 and by Tuesday had spread to 17 countries, including Canada.

Ms. Hochul on Thursday announced the first confirmed cases of the recently identified COVID-19 omicron variant in the State, including a Suffolk County resident. She said the Suffolk resident, did not become symptomatic until after returning home from her most recent trip to South Africa..

The other four cases were residents of New York City.

The emergency declaration allows the state health department to limit nonessential hospital care until mid-January in facilities with limited capacity, a move designed to keep beds open if a wave of new COVID cases lands in New York. Those hospitals are all upstate; the governor said there are not yet capacity issues in Suffolk County.

Nationally, President Biden has shut down travel for all non-citizens from eight African countries and by week’s end those restrictions were being expanded.

Since March 2020, COVID-19 has done a world of damage on Long Island, in the State, nationwide and around the world, particularly in places with low vaccination rates. In America it has wreaked havoc on the economy, destroyed countless businesses big and small, disrupted education at all levels, and claimed an astonishing 777,000 lives in less than two years.

There were approximately 750,000 deaths in the American Civil War; American deaths in World War II totaled more than 400,000 over four years — nearly half of what COVID-19 has done in a far shorter time span.

America can’t seem to free itself from COVID. The steps needed to bring it under control, such as mask or vaccination mandates, have been denounced by political groups who say such efforts violate their personal freedoms. Perhaps one definition of freedom is to not do anything that brings harm to someone else. But that is not the debate that has raged in this country since the pandemic erupted.

Many of those who have resisted vaccine mandates — and even sought to punish entities like school districts for requiring them — now say President Biden has failed to bring the pandemic under control. Certainly that would be one definition of hypocrisy.

Here on Shelter Island and statewide, we watch the news with trepidation to see if COVID numbers will continue to climb. We can only hope we have turned a corner and there will be no more disruptions in our lives and that this is the last we hear of this beast.

So we wait. Meanwhile, state officials urge everyone to get vaccinated; if you are, get the booster. And wear masks indoors.