Predictions both dire and hopeful for the New Year

It’s time for my annual predictions for the New Year. Looking into my crystal ball for 2022, I see pie. Yummy. Wait, make that Pi. That’s the next letter in the Greek alphabet eligible for the name of a COVID variant.

At the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization began naming COVID-19 variants by Greek letters starting with Alpha. Minor strains and their attendant letters came and went which is why Theta and Kappa didn’t get an iota of public attention.

The WHO skipped the letter Nu because it sounds like new and Xi because it looks like the surname of China’s dictator thus sparing him from any awkward potential associations. We’re at Omicron and that means there are only nine letters left. Perhaps only seven are usable since Tau is the name of a protein associated with Alzheimer’s and Psi resembles Psy, the Korean pop icon. In retrospect, the WHO should have used the 74 letter Khmer alphabet for this fast-mutating virus.

It’s like when they designated my age cohort Generation X, skipped Generation Y in favor of Millennials and named today’s teens Generation Z. What comes next? Generation AA? Whoever the “they” are really should have thought about the repercussions of starting with a small number of usable letters. The same goes for the WHO’s choice of the 24 letter Greek alphabet.

By contrast, influenza strains are designated by a combination of four or more letters and numbers. Now that COVID appears endemic, like influenza, it’s time to switch to a more sustainable nomenclature. While we’re at it, we need think in terms of sustainable public policy that does not close businesses, leave people jobless, deny kids an education, give politicians an excuse to borrow and spend (like they need one), or inhibit the ability to breathe and communicate freely. Yes, I’m referring to masks in the latter point. For those who sent me grim reaper GIFs via Twitter after my anti-mask column, know that my refusal to wear one in most situations has not evoked a single shopkeeper reprimand much less caused any infections or any early demises.

While COVID variants come and go, some changes wrought by the pandemic will linger. People will continue to grieve the loss of friends and relatives. It will take time to make up lost learning. Hospital capacity will strain during peak infection periods. However, over time, the virus will likely become less lethal because of better therapies, vaccines, and viral evolution. Variants that are highly transmissible but do not kill the host are more successful at propagation.

Other changes brought by the pandemic are positive and hopefully enduring. The number of employees working from home nearly doubled during the pandemic. That means fewer people commuting and less need for large corporate spaces in some industries. Now that I’ve finally mastered logging on to ZOOM without swearing and crying tears of helpless rage, I confess there’s something nice about getting to a meeting without stepping foot into a car.

Businesses are establishing better performance rubrics for at home workers and determining when it’s actually necessary to have in-person contact. For many employees working from home has increased workplace satisfaction. Also a reduction in work traffic and office overhead means lower carbon emissions.

Hopefully our experience over the past two years will prompt more conversation about efficient use of energy and manpower. Do we really need to leave business lights on all night? Remember stars? Do restaurants need to be open between meal times? In much of the world, they’re not. What is necessary? What is superfluous?

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