I struggled this year with whether or not to host my family Thanksgiving. All of us are fully vaccinated, but a few of us are still considered “high risk,” and one is officially “immunocompromised.” In the end, I decided to go forward with the plans, having 15 people over to our house to eat, drink, and be thankful.
And then, while sitting on the couch, finally getting off my feet to digest dinner, I checked Twitter for the first time all day and I saw the news: A new COVID variant.
It was so early in the news cycle that they were still calling it B.1.1.529. It’s now-official name, “Omicron,” wouldn’t come until Friday, Nov. 26.
Dread washed over me. I simultaneously wondered if hosting had been a bad idea or a good one? Was Omicron already spreading in our state and we just didn’t know it? Or was this the last chance we would have as a family to gather with relative safety?
By the very nature of my job, I also wondered, “How will this affect the candy industry?”
As I started writing today’s column about the COVID variant, Omicron, it quickly became clear that there was an easier question: “How will this not affect the candy industry?”
We’ve had almost two years to see how a pandemic affects the industry, and the answer is simple: in every possible way. Logistics, staffing, supply prices, industry events, travel restrictions, consumer behavior, inflation, general unrest — it all ties directly into COVID and then back to the candy industry.
We don’t know for sure yet how bad Omicron will be.
The World Health Organization has named it as a variant of concern, and as the BBC reported yesterday, the agency also said Omicron “poses a high risk of infection surges around the globe.”
There is concern that it might be both highly transmissible and pose a risk of re-infection, which could mean that immunity gained through prior exposure and vaccines may not work to prevent infection.
In other words, we could be going back to February 2020. Except, of course, we aren’t. We have learned too much since then to ever truly go back to the beginning.
We have all been given an on-the-job training crash course on epidemiology.
We now know so much about masks, ventilation and how virus particles spread. We all were forced to learn what mRNA is, why we need vaccine booster doses, and who Dr. Fauci is. We’re even learning the Greek alphabet together.
From a more industry-specific standpoint, we’ve learned a lot. too. Like how to answer the question “is candy pandemic-proof?” Turns out the answer is yeah, it mostly is.
And we’ve learned how COVID-19 has impacted:
And so much more.
After all, if we don’t use all the things we learned, what’s the point? What was the point of enduring all of that? All the turmoil and uncertainty we had to wade through to get here? We’re through a lot of it now, and we can use that to our advantage.
Personally, Omicron combined with rising cases in Europe was enough for me to cancel my plans to travel to the ISM in Germany in January 2022. Back in June, when cases were low and I felt relatively safe attending the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Indiana, I had so much hope for ISM. But the pandemic has a way of quickly changing things, and now, in December, it feels too risky.
As for how things turned out with my family Thanksgiving, unfortunately the person who is immunocompromised did get cold symptoms, but he has gotten three negative results on COVID tests, so the hope is that it’s just a regular old-fashioned cold. The entire family has been stressed about it, though, and when I found out he was sick, I immediately regretted hosting. Then, when I found out he repeatedly tested negative for COVID, I wondered if maybe hosting had indeed been the right choice.
At the very least, Omicron is a stark reminder that COVID is not over, and we are not “going back to normal” any time soon. We don’t quite have the luxury of ignoring COVID yet, as much as we want it.
So keep masking up, get your vaccines, and avoid large indoor gatherings. And don’t forget that everyone is enduring a trauma. The candy industry has always been particularly welcoming and friendly, even between competitors, so I have complete faith in our ability to extend even more kindness during the winter holidays.
Stay safe out there. We all want to be there on the other side of this thing.