It’s been three months since I departed the San Antonio Report and stopped spamming your inboxes with locally flavored COVID-19 news, and I remain puzzled by the number I see on the San Antonio Report homepage every day: a 69.1% vaccination rate in Bexar County.

Nope, that number is not nice.

In the past few weeks, a new super-mutant variant of the virus has emerged. Omicron — the 13th named variant, named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet  (yes, we’ve had that many concerning coronavirus strains) — just sounds ominous.

I don’t even remember crashing a frat party in college with an omicron in its name, so its vibes must be inherently harsh.

Omicron’s arrival on the global scene comes amid an upward drive in vaccinations throughout the country. On Thursday, nearly 2.2 million people got jabbed in the U.S., the highest number of vaccinations since May. Of those, nearly a third were newly vaccinated people. Almost half were booster doses. Since the federal government recommended booster shots for adults who have been fully vaccinated for six months, about 40 million Americans have gotten boosted.

And omicron’s emergence prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tweak its recommendations on vaccine boosters. Striking the word “may” from the recommendation, the CDC said healthy adults between age 18 and 65 “should” get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (If you haven’t yet, get your COVID booster, and ensure you’re protected.)

Texas recorded its first omicron case Monday in Harris County, and although the variant has not been detected in Bexar County — yet — it’s only a matter of time. Labs only conduct genomic sequencing of a portion of viral specimens, so that process can be slow-going.

Yes, very early indications are that the omicron variant presents relatively mild symptoms, but omicron is not the dominant strain in the U.S. Delta still reigns supreme, and many more lives were taken by Covid-19 in the year of delta (2021) than in 2020. According to the CDC, delta accounted for 99.99% of cases in Texas for the week ending Nov. 27.

In addition to the looming threat of another mutant strain of the coronavirus, large employers (those with 100 or more employees) face a fast-approaching Jan. 4 deadline to comply with the White House’s vaccine mandate or have their unvaccinated workers submit to weekly testing. Though the mandate is likely to face a fulsome challenge in the courts, employers aren’t taking a wait-and-see approach.

We don’t really know much about omicron, and won’t for another few weeks. It is indeed very troubling that this strain has assembled an all-star roster of mutations from the past two years. Then again, that’s how evolution works. With the coronavirus still roiling at a seasonal cadence throughout the country and building steam through large swaths of the mostly unvaccinated world, we should expect potent variants to continue to rise.

I’ve been operating under the assumption that omicron is already lurking in San Antonio. It’s why I’ve been masking up at places in which I had previously relaxed my use of face coverings, such as restaurants and grocery stores.

Other than that, I haven’t changed my behavior much. I work from home and don’t regularly interact with anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated. I’m going to my brother’s wedding this week, and I plan on taking a COVID test before and after the ceremonies just to be on the safe side. Like many who aren’t cancelling their travel plans amid the holiday season, I’m still planning on seeing my parents in Laredo for Christmas. After having been stuck with three doses of the vaccine, I know my immune response would be strong if the virus ever entered my system.

I covered this pandemic for a year and a half. When I was writing my daily COVID newsletter at the height of the pandemic, there were times I was vulnerable, angry, and downright fearful of what might happen as disease slithered through San Antonio, Texas, and the world.

Those fears have been allayed, thanks to science and thanks to family and friends who have protected themselves with vaccinations. I wear my mask not for myself but for the people in my community who are elderly or immunocompromised and those who have not yet been vaccinated, whatever their reason may be.

It’s now abundantly clear we’re living with an endemic virus that will not go away anytime soon. It’s a reality I would not have deigned to accept not too long ago.

But there is a normal on the other side of this thing; it just won’t look like the normal we’re acquainted with.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez is a columnist at the San Antonio Report. A former reporter and editor at the SA Report, he currently works as a project manager for New York City-based Advance Local.