2022 resolution is simple: Live with COVID—one day at a time

Stay alive, in short, even as you work and get exposed to it. But we have so many whys for government

Elmer Borlongan painting titled 'Parking Attendant' (2008), in a private collection, done way before the pandemic, becomes a foretaste of 2022. (Photo by Thelma San Juan)

No. Not! Not yet.

Just when you thought family get-togethers, malling, dining-out, shopping, and yes, getting back to physical office or at least, for the young work force, getting a job—just when you thought the life you had in 2019 and before that was back—wham!….came the surge of new cases, and back to the cave you go, gripped anew with fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

Just two weekends ago, the malls were crowded. Families were venturing out, from babies in strollers to lolos and lolas in wheelchairs. We sat in the open air watching people queue up for the newest coffee in town at Omotesando, and felt encouraged that local retail was bouncing back, that business finally could be on the mend.

Then suddenly—or was it really sudden? Who was manning the watch tower, the Department of Health?—came the jarring reality check. Families and households were contracting the virus, or falling ill. It’s like decks of dominos in unstoppable collapse. Testing centers couldn’t cope with the urgent need, and the delivery of results was  uncertain. A friend was supposed to get hers in 24 hours, which became 48 hours, which then became 70 hours. “If I was positive, I should be negative by the time I get it, or who knows, turn positive again,” she told me in exasperation.

Yet again, the health infrastructure is in dire straits. Quarantine sites? The Administration’s move is to deploy the police to the sites.

Self-isolation and self-care at home become the norm. Thank God that by now many people know what to do. In this latest wave of infection, the symptoms are usually dry or itchy throat, body pains, headache, and coughing. Thank God for doctor friends who, by now, know already what to prescribe: lots of vitamins C, D, zinc, melatonin, salabat, suob (steaming), full rest and plenty of sleep. There are those who believe in Ivermectin.

And—thank God, a good number of the population are vaxxed and getting boosters. The vaccine didn’t make one immune (there were never such claims) but apparently, it mitigated the negative effects or symptoms, enabling one to resort to home isolation.

The vaccine didn’t make one immune (there were never such claims) but apparently, it mitigated the negative effects

The vaccination roll-out is one area in this pandemic that the national government and the LGUs exerted efforts on, to their credit, no matter that the system/procedure was confusing, the coverage spotty, and the timeline delayed. And this was where the private sector, particularly big business, helped; it had to, if business and industry were to survive.

Self-isolation at home is a challenge that is turned into a drill. By now, one hopes that households already know how to do self-isolation, even if it drives one up the wall.

Monitoring the rise in the number of cases is enough to drive one nuts, so I stopped monitoring. Today, exposure to a positive case seems more the norm than the exception. “Just when you think you’re in the clear, there’s no such thing anymore,” said another friend, whose mother in her household has just been exposed to positive cases—just as my friend was winding up her own self-quarantine after having been exposed to her boyfriend.

People go out. Indefinite lockdown isn’t sustainable, so it cannot be the forever solution of the Administration. Anyway, businesses, like banks, schools, and restaurants, shut down automatically and temporarily when they suffer a rise in COVID incidence.

What all this tells us is—not only should we accept and understand this new reality, we should also redraw the map to this new normal. “New” and “normal,” we now realize after two years of pandemic, are words that seem contradictory. When the lockdown started in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, people talked about the new normal without really knowing what it was. Today, after two years, many of us perhaps realize finally that “normal,” as we knew it, would not be back in the foreseeable future—not in 2022, perhaps not even in 2023. Our “old normal” was: no masks, no distancing, regular malling and shopping, working in the office, going to school, dining out, clubbing, concerts…you get it. “New” is always changing; what was new yesterday may no longer apply today.

Not only our mindset should pivot, but government response—or what passes for it—to the pandemic, which primarily involves the health sector, must also adapt to the changing pandemic.

In a January 8, 2022 article titled How Soon Will COVID Be “Normal”? in the New Yorker, writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote:

On Thursday, six medical experts close to the White House published three op-eds in the Journal of the American Medical Association, arguing that the time had come for a new approach to the pandemic—one that sets aside the campaign for eradication in favor of living with the disease. COVID-19, one op-ed argued, should no longer even be tracked on its own but monitored together with other respiratory viruses, such as the flu—the sort of thing that might be done by epidemiologists rather than by all of us refreshing graphs on the Times’ website day and night.

Indeed, we must now accept the reality that we must live with the disease. “I have been living with it, and even accept the fact that in my lifetime, our health infrastructure will not change, the way it didn’t in your generation,” my 35-year-old son told me with cold pragmatism the other day, his fifth day of recovery from COVID-like symptoms (coughing, bad throat, no fever), about his possible regular exposure to the virus out there. (He did his own antigen test, and for days now has been waiting for the result of a RT-PCR which, when it indeed comes, will indicate just his past status.) His work is in company sales, which means he’s exposed to clients and venues—almost every day. What helps me sleep at night, despite my paranoia about his work, is the assuring thought that at least, he’s been vaxxed, along with everyone in the household.

The New Yorker continues:

“A ‘new normal with COVID’ in January 2022 is not living without COVID-19,” Ezekiel Emanuel, of the University of Pennsylvania, Celine Gounder, of N.Y.U., and Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, wrote. But they believed that the long era of emergency—the one defined by a wartime feeling and frequent briefings from Anthony Fauci—should draw to a close.

The New Yorker interviewed Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden:

…. he’d said that it might make sense at some point to focus not on COVID cases but on hospitalizations, a change that would organize policy around the medical effort to identify and treat the very sick rather than a social campaign to stop the spread of the disease.

The determinants that are just as significant as the number of new cases, are the rates of hospitalization, recovery, and death

Again indeed this reiterates what Philippine medical experts have been saying—that the determinants that are just as significant as the number of new cases, are the rates of hospitalization, recovery, and death.

The New Yorker continues:

But eventually the Omicron wave would come to an end, and the sheer contagiousness of the past two waves, combined with the vaccination campaign, would leave a broad protective “immunological memory,” as Fauci put it, throughout the population. “Then you start to think about what being infected means regarding closing down indoor events, impact on the economy, impact on travel, impact on schools.” At that point, he said, if there are very few hospitalizations compared with the number of cases, “the impact on society should be measured not on how many people are blowing their nose but on how many people are really getting sick.”

Reading this interview somehow lifts you from despair. However, still, that is the First World. The US and Europe are registering a range from a million to hundreds of thousands of new cases daily, but their economies have better chances of surviving and thriving, compared to ours that is stuck in the Third World, a good size of the population mired in poverty. The world at large is beginning to learn from the past two years how to deal with this pandemic and is looking at a “window” to master ways and opportunities of living WITH COVID and its variants.

In contrast, here, we are stuck with so many whys, such as:

WHY didn’t the authorities foresee the Omicron new-case surge, given that Filipinos, rich and poor, celebrate the holiday season big time? Or, did it, but still didn’t set stringent measures? While there’s no stopping Filipinos from celebrating Christmas, new normal strict protocols should have been put in place and people reminded that this wasn’t 2018 or 2019, not “business as usual”—in short, that we’re still in a pandemic with no adequate health infrastructure.

WHY didn’t the Administration use the past two years to pave the way for free, accessible, reliable (not just rapid test) testing? People are still left to fend for themselves—what now, if you don’t have the money to pay for tests? Bahala ka sa buhay mo. (No need to translate.)

With testing sites overloaded, more and more people are resorting to rapid tests done at home, even if the results are inconclusive.

People must note—unless you want to ignore—the fact that it is the Office of the Vice President that has relentlessly been doing testing and propagating treatments, and this, despite its meager resources.

WHY couldn’t LGUs (officials whose wives and mistresses are a good clientele of designer bags) explore the deployment of more mobile clinics—with X-rays— to meet the urgent requirements of neighborhoods for clinical tests and basic treatments? Do you know how it is for potential positive cases to drive to diagnostic centers and queue up for X-rays? I have friends who did.

WHY didn’t the Administration have a sustained, massive education campaign (as in non-stop), down to and especially at the grassroots level, about COVID, health protocols, and especially vaccination? In our neighborhood alone, I’d hear of construction workers and househelp saying that COVID and the pandemic are just make-believe (“gawa gawa lang”) and a “conspiracy.” The government received infusion of pandemic funds and enjoyed the early generosity of big business, which could have been tapped for an education campaign that saves the population from fake news.

No economy can survive a three-year lockdown. Truth be told, the poor are more scared of hunger than of COVID

There are so many whys and what nows on our minds. The pandemic is not a police matter that merits only a lockdown solution. No economy can survive a three-year lockdown. Truth be told, the poor are more scared of hunger than of COVID.

So—perhaps the new year will see a roll-out of government measures adapted to the new normal phase of the pandemic, where people can continue working and living while having access to testing and routine treatments, where the health infrastructure is continually strengthened and modified to meet the changing needs of the pandemic, where health protocols have become endemic to daily living.

Having a secured environment is the right of every citizen.

An exhausted hospital executive texted me this message: “If you ask me, this Omicron wave  should be dubbed as ‘the plague of the healthcare industry.’ We are the most affected this time, not just in the number of medical personnel who get infected by the disease, but also in terms of the heavy burden this surge has brought upon us. Omicron, with the remaining Delta, is wearing us down, mainly because of manpower falling sick or those who simply don’t show up for work.”

The New Yorker continued:

Fauci, in other words, sounded far more hesitant than the JAMA experts to declare a “new normal.” There were, he said, “too many unknowns.” We don’t know the number of people in the country with no experience of the virus—who haven’t been vaccinated or infected. We also don’t know what level of protection an Omicron infection might provide against the next variant. “Because we will undoubtedly get a next variant,” he said.

The next variant—that seems to be a given in living in 2022 and beyond.

A friend got turned off reading about some people taking self-improvement courses and seminars for the new year, like the answer could somehow be found outside of us. “My goodness, I just want to stay alive and happy,” she said.

The 2022 resolution is simple— stay alive.

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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