By SHARON YAMATO

I think it’s safe to say that most of us are pretty relieved that 2021 — our second year of the pandemic — is finally over.

It started with anticipation that a vaccine was going to solve all our COVID ills, but it quickly became a rollercoaster ride as many, though not enough, of us were vaccinated during the first half of the year, only to be hit by the news of the more contagious Delta variant a few months later. In August the booster again helped assuage our fears until Omicron sent us on another deep dive.

If 2022 is starting out like déjà vu all over again, it’s because we’re now recovering from a holiday season that saw record numbers of COVID cases, schools, events, and other public gatherings going virtual once more, and debilitating social isolation. You might say that so far the only thing different about 2022 is the kind of masks we’re wearing, i.e., KN95 or N95 masks instead of the thin cloth ones that CNN medical expert Dr. Leana Wen (my personal favorite expert) described as “nothing more than facial decoration.”

Even though the Rose Parade was back, and the Super Bowl is on schedule for February, we have yet to find out how these super-spreader events might very well cause an even greater uptick in COVID cases.  

Fortunately, we’re all so used to accommodating for COVID that things don’t seem nearly as bad on the outside as they once were. From my vantage point 20 miles west of Little Tokyo, it looks like businesses and restaurants there are probably struggling to remain open with a lot of take-out and delivery, even though institutions like JANM have been forced to close their doors again. Large in-person gatherings seem relegated (again) to virtual events, which isn’t all bad for some organizations that have managed to fundraise without them.

Dr. Leana Wen gives updates on COVID and other health issues on CNN.

Personally, I will miss seeing old friends and meeting new acquaintances at some of the live DOR events and pilgrimages (including the popular Tule Lake Pilgrimage just canceled) that will undoubtedly have to be put off in the interest of safety. Nothing would be worse than to expose even one person to Omicron, especially given the large number of seniors that could be exposed.

Since it doesn’t look like we as a nation will ever be fully vaccinated, it might be time to resign ourselves to a new normal of baseline infections. Last I checked, only 67 percent of all Californians were fully vaccinated, with a slighter higher percentage among Asian Americans (roughly 74 percent).

What has been the most disturbing to me is finding out that members of my own family have bought into the anti-vax lies purporting that vaccinations are either (1) dangerous or (2) an assault on our personal freedom. I was shocked to find out that my 91-year-old sister remains unvaccinated on the counsel of various “experts,” which include her anti-vax grandson (who, by the way, is neither a scientist nor a medical expert).

After I reached out to her to explain my concern for her well-being, as well as that of others around her, I received her response that she believes we are not being presented with all the facts and that scientific evidence exists that the vaccine may cause more harm than good. I know our family has never been much on discussing anything divisive or controversial, but I’m at a loss to understand this lunacy.

For once I can’t blame everything on the fact that our having survived camp somehow has something to do with this. I can only surmise that there is something terribly broken in our family that some of us don’t see the connection between vaccinations and the prevention of needless deaths.

I know we should be able to talk about these things with those we love and with whom we disagree, and in all fairness, an effort was made by my family’s certified anti-vaxxer via email to family members to discuss the issue, but I just can’t see how anyone in their right mind can refute the overwhelming scientific evidence, not to mention real-life examples, of how vaccinations are critical in preventing sickness and death. The numbers say it all. Last I checked, in the U.S. alone, we’re at more than 59 million cases and 833,000 deaths from COVID, and the CDC has reported that one is 14 times more like to die from COVID if unvaccinated.

Still, despite those who are being fooled into thinking that vaccinations are unnecessary, I refuse to believe that 2022 will continue on this downward spiral. I’ve never been a big fan of rollercoasters, but I’m holding on tight in hopes that reaching the bottom is not the end but rather an opportunity for us to face the next challenge, and perhaps an opportunity to re-evaluate family values.

As a wise man once said, “Just when you think you are over the hump, the hump moves.” Let’s gather all our 2022 strength to face the next hump.

Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at sharony360@gmail.com. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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