Well, that didn’t take long. In the two weeks since my last message, Omicron has laid siege to the world and new cases are exploding at growth rates unseen at any moment of this pandemic. In the six weeks since it was identified in South Africa, Omicron has spread with such astonishing speed that it is already the dominant strain of the SARS-CoV2 virus in many of our communities in North America. Here in B&M, we went from six active cases to 36 over the past four days. We have also experienced internal B&Mer to B&Mer transmission for the first time in six months.
As experts predicted, the increased contagiousness of Omicron is a big problem. The latest data is that a person contagious from an Omicron infection transmits the virus to twice as many people as someone infected by Delta. The new variant’s greater success at piercing the immunity wall provided by vaccines and prior infection is also very alarming. Our governments and public health authorities have sprung into action with familiar restrictions, updated mask mandates, wide distribution of rapid test kits, and accelerated vaccine programs. Within the company, we are also refreshing COVID protocols on masking and redeploying office capacity limits.
This new wave is a discouraging and scary development. The number of people in my own social and work network that I’ve heard are ill, have had close contacts, and/or are isolating is startling and unlike any other time during the COVID-19 era. This holiday season was already going to be complicated but Omicron has next-levelled everything as every one of us tackles the anxiety and uncertainty about gathering, travelling, and adhering to evolving government restrictions.
I have heard many people saying that “we’re back where we started”. While I agree that the wolf has returned to the door in the form of new cases, I am here to argue that we are, in fact, way ahead of where we started.
Compared to March 2020, we understand what we are dealing with and how the virus is transmitted. (Through the air!) We know how to stay safe (masks, ventilation, and mindfulness about how we interact with others). We are protected by vaccines from infection and serious illness and boosters are being rapidly rolled out across North America. Physicians are experiencing better success at treating people sick with COVID-19 and new pharmaceutical treatments will soon be available for the most vulnerable.
It is not all doomsday with respect to Omicron. Thus far, hospitalizations and deaths are not growing at the same rate as new cases. Scientists have been racing to untangle the immunity effects and demographic influences from Omicron-specific effects to understand how this new variant differs from its predecessors. Ongoing analysis continues to be encouraging. Data released yesterday from a studies of Omicron in Denmark, South Africa and the UK suggest that there is a 40-45% reduction of hospitalization risk compared to Delta. However, those three countries saw Omicron cases skewed towards younger people, a cohort that is statistically less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19. While it is too early to declare Omicron to be a milder strain, there is cause for optimism.
In the near future, I believe we can expect very significant personal and business disruption from the Omicron wave. Even if it proves to be intrinsically less severe, Omicron’s heightened transmission threatens to drive case counts and related hospitalizations beyond the capacity of our healthcare system. It is easy to foresee further restrictions and hardships over the next two months. This wave may also more greatly imperil our company’s ability to protect our people, to staff our work, and to meet our customer commitments. But, at B&M, we can recognize a way forward. We are well beyond our turbulent contraction of the spring of 2020. We have enjoyed excellent business success in 2021 and will enter the New Year on very solid footing. At present, we are as busy as we’ve ever been. Going forward, we have substantial backlog, many opportunities, and a scarcity of problem projects. All of this points toward another strong year in 2022. Unfortunately, we have yet another COVID-19 squall to navigate through. Luckily, we know how to do this. We’ve done it before. And through every stage of this pandemic, B&Mers have found a way to come together, to stay safe, to make do, and to get things done. We are just going to have to do it again.
In closing, I leave you with the words of the incomparable Leonard Cohen from the chorus of a song called “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
We shall find our way through. Have a safe and happy holiday. Thank you for turning the possible into the remarkable in 2021. On behalf of all the McDonald family, I offer best wishes and huge appreciations.