Three times in 2022 it looked like I might be able to finally stop wearing that annoying face mask in public.

In late February, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in New Hampshire, which is the best metric for the spread of the disease, plummeted downward from an all-time high of 472. I rubbed my hands in gleeful anticipation that it would soon hit single digits, my metric for casting aside the N95.

Alas, the count stalled out at 25 and headed back up in March. “Curses, foiled again!” I mumbled through the mask.

But that peak soon reversed itself and numbers headed back down. Eagerly I watched them fall in early summer, my fingers itching to tear off the mask, only to see them rise again starting in July, hitting a new peak of 167 in October.

But hope springs eternal and I perked up in November as the expected winter surge didn’t arrive. For a couple of weeks it looked like we might not see an annual cold-weather COVID resurgence, raising the possibility that the pandemic has burned itself out.

I should have known better. Hospitalizations have been back above 100 for several weeks and is heading towards 200. They might be higher if hospitals weren’t overwhelmed by influenza and the RSV virus, which continues to fill the state’s pediatric Intensive Care wards, giving doctors incentive to keep borderline COVID cases home.

With all those respiratory viruses floating around, it’s clear that the mask is staying in place whenever I’m in crowds or public places indoors.

I am, of course, vaccinated and boosted to the max, both for COVID and the flu, and if I do get sick I’ll ask for Paxlovid or other COVID treatment as soon as symptoms show because I do not want to be added to the rolls of hospitalized patients.

If there’s any good news as we enter Year Four Of The Pandemic Era, it’s that we have many medical tools in our arsenal, including the free rapid at-home tests that I have ordered from the government. These haven’t conquered the pandemic but they do minimize the risk and danger to people, including my favorite person: myself.

So despite the annoyance, I’ll continue to take as much advantage of these tools as I can until the all-clear is sounded. Because being annoyed is lots better than being sick

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