The first cases of the omicron variant were detected in the United States this week. On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced his strategy for coping with omicron and delta this winter, which will include expanding vaccination and booster initiatives and stricter testing for international travelers.
Even though Biden has said his strategy will not involve shutdowns or lockdowns, many nevertheless feel increasingly isolated due to the political division resulting from COVID-19.
Approximately 780,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus. Needless to say, the pandemic should be taken seriously, and people should follow their physicians’ advice, including on the topic of vaccination, to make the right decisions for themselves.
At the same time, it is understandable why some have responded to omicron with indifference and why skepticism continues to grow: Despite reassurance that there is “no reason” to panic, many seem intent on keeping society in a constant state of fear.
I’ve heard from people who are being coerced into complying by way of their employers or schools. They feel as though they are losing their minds because it has become so socially unacceptable to question any aspect of what is unfolding before us.
Friendships and relationships also suffer. In some cases, friends and family members proudly disown people, writing them off as ignorant, selfish, conspiratorial, or worse. This is reflected in a recent study about how vaccination status is dividing the public. More than 1 in 4 vaccinated adults have stopped associating with a loved one because they are unvaccinated. Vaccinated Democrats are twice as likely as vaccinated Republicans to report doing so.
No one deserves to be discriminated against or shamed for choices pertaining to his or her personal health. Coping with the stigma and social isolation that comes with speaking up may feel insurmountable, but know that your feelings are valid. You are not alone.
Social support becomes extremely important. If people close to you are not supportive, avoiding the topic of COVID-19, and perhaps politics more generally, in conversation may be the best approach to salvaging those relationships. If possible, try to find at least one other person in your life with whom you can share your concerns.
If that fails, as difficult as it may be to find them in our censorious climate, online communities can offer support. You don’t necessarily need to agree with each other. What’s important is the ability to discuss freely and without judgment.
Dr. Debra Soh is a sex neuroscientist, the host of The Dr. Debra Soh Podcast, and the author of The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths About Sex and Identity in Our Society.