Good news: Oxygen levels in my bloodstream have risen from a borderline reading of 93% one week ago to a safe 98% on Wednesday even as I continue to test positive. The bad news as I anticipate my 70th birthday later this year: I am fighting COVID-19 for the second time, after first being infected when the pandemic arrived in San Antonio in March 2020.

This time around is very different, with diagnostics and treatments not available two years ago. But even vaccinated and boosted, I’ve experienced serious symptoms. The widespread view that the threat of COVID-19 is milder now is, unfortunately, not true for many of us.

Once again I am quarantined at home, living apart from my wife Monika, unable even to join her and my two sons last week to grieve the sudden and unexpected loss of Miga, our one-and-a-half-year-old cat.

How, I wonder, am I going to vote in the current primary runoffs, now that Texas has passed voter restriction legislation that prevents local election officials from arranging drive-through voting, or any other safe and innovative methods of increasing voter turnout? If I am lucky, I’ll test negative later this week and make it to the polls on Tuesday. If my physician tells me I am still at risk of infecting others, I am going to miss doing my civic duty for the first time in memory.

I am mindful that others around the country and world are suffering far worse, from racial violence in Buffalo, New York, to Russian war crimes in Ukraine, to desperate migrants piling up along along the Texas-Mexico border. I share my own story this week for what light it can shed on how we continue to cope with a seesawing pandemic.

Where exactly are we as the nation marks the symbolic recognition of 1 million COVID-19 deaths? It’s a statistic experts readily agree is understated, as are global mortality estimates. One recently published study suggests 18 million people have died worldwide.

Infections are on the rise in this country.

“Depending on what tracker you use, we are at about 100,000 new infection cases a day, and we know the actual number of infections is substantially higher than that,” President Joe Biden’s new coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, said in a Wednesday morning press briefing at the White House, the first of its kind after a six-week hiatus. “Hard to know exactly how many, but we know a lot of people getting diagnosed are using home tests (and) we are clearly undercounting.

“There is a lot of infection across America,” he added. “What is driving that is the incredibly infectious sub-variants” of the coronavirus.

The Biden administration’s decision to resume the briefings comes less than one month after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nations’s top infectious disease doctor, declared in an interview on the PBS NewsHour that the United States was “out of the pandemic phase.”

I am one of those who confirmed the obvious through a home test, although my infection was registered through my primary care physician. I also benefitted from an at-home intravenous dose of Bebtelovimab, an antibody generator approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which likely enabled me to avoid hospitalization.

Beware of various for-profit websites that offer such treatments for $1,000 or more. Families with COVID-infected individuals who might be eligible for at-home treatment should consult a family physician, their health care insurer, or local public health officials to obtain access to the treatment without incurring such a fee. My treatment was administered at no cost by BCFS System, the Texas-based global health and human service nonprofit organization.

Every day, it seems, I hear about another friend or colleagues who tests positive. Yet locally, all COVID-19 measures are still in the “low” category, from case rates to hospitalizations to deaths, according to the San Antonio Metro Health COVID-19 Dashboard. The numbers reflect a new reality: COVID-19 persists, but we are learning to live and work with it and its real reach remains underreported.

That doesn’t mean a future spike won’t disrupt whatever the new normal is, but we know that vaccinations, improved treatments, and social distancing practices, including mask use inside public places when prudent, help contain the viral spread.

People over the age of 65 need to watch it, even those who are active and healthy. Still emerging evidence suggests the constantly mutating virus could repeatedly infect some people. More boosters, it seems, are in our future.

Wish me well. I’d rather write about other local topics of interest and importance.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.

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