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On Thanksgiving Day, we learned about the first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, identified in South Africa and Botswana. By Monday, it had been found in Australia, Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Scotland, England and Canada. No one will be surprised if Omicron makes its way to the United States this week — or if it’s already here, adding threat and worry to the Delta variant we’re already grappling with.

Scientists estimate that it will take two weeks before we know if Omicron is more contagious and deadly than Delta and other variants and whether the 3.33 billion people who are fully vaccinated will have sufficient protection against it. 

Vaccine producers are fighting back by developing Omicron-specific boosters, testing higher doses of booster shots, and developing new ones that anticipate mutations like this one.

While we wait to see how evil this new variant will be — and in the full knowledge that Delta and Omicron are just two in a potentially endless number of variants coming our way — this is a good time to consider a few COVID realities.

• The virus replicates and mutates unimpeded in the unvaccinated, generating new variants. If you are unvaccinated, not only do you risk your life and the lives of those around you, but you may also be the host for the next deadly COVID variant. “Unvaccinated people are basically the cannon fodder of the virus,” said Dr. Michael Saag, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Alabama.

• A Vox piece from February describes what it’s like for hospitalized coronavirus patients. In “What It’s Like to Die from COVID-19,” Todd Rice, a critical care and pulmonology specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says “families are only seeing a little bit of it,” adding that most of us have been “protected and sheltered from seeing the worst of this disease.” 

In the Vox article, physicians describe their patients’ damaged lungs fighting for oxygen. “Imagine trying to breathe through a very narrow straw,” says Jess Mandel, chief of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at UC San Diego Health. “You can do that for 15 to 20 seconds, but try doing it for two hours. Or for days or weeks.”

Patients with thick secretions in their lungs “feel like they are trying to breathe through muck. Many people say it feels like they’re being smothered.” Others say “it feels like a band across their chest or that their lungs are on fire. Or like a thousand bees stinging them inside their chest.”

Terms and medical procedures that appear in the Vox article include tracheostomy, kidney failure, stroke, “medication to paralyze them so they cannot move,” isolation, agitation, catheters to drain urine and feces “which is especially important because COVID-19 often causes diarrhea,” dialysis, delirium, turning incapacitated patients in bed every couple of hours “to make sure their skin doesn’t break down,” loneliness, a “sense of impending doom.”

In the end, when the ventilator tube is removed, even heavily sedated people “often gasp or cough as the body fights for air before they die.”

• In the week ending Nov. 27, 26 people died this way from COVID in El Paso County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• El Paso has the highest number of COVID deaths — 1,239 — among Colorado counties. Denver city and county is next, at 1,002.

• Only 67 percent of people age 12 or older in the county are fully vaccinated (CDC data). Even conservative Douglas County is at 77.8.

So two things, given our current situation and the coming unknown that is Omicron.

1. To the anti-vaxxers and vaccine-hesitant in our midst: None of your masked, vaccinated neighbors give one tinker’s damn about your “freedom” anymore. And...

2. We’re hoping there is a white-hot front row seat in the deepest, dankest level of hell for those “leaders” who have politicized this pandemic, keeping otherwise sane Americans from doing their civic duty and getting vaccinated.