While much is unknown about the latest variant of the coronavirus — it’s seriousness, transmissibility and ability to evade vaccines — it appears to already have had at least a couple of widespread impacts: weariness and not a little bit of anger.

A request for comment on The Sun Chronicle’s Facebook page the omicron variant elicited a range of responses. Some indicated they were tuning out news related to the pandemic, which has disrupted lives for more than 20 months. Others accused “the media,” including The Sun Chronicle, of over-hyping news of the variant for nefarious ends.

“Let’s lock it all down just in time for the midterm elections. The Democrats and the Mainstream Liberal Media need to cheat again in order to keep control!” said John Blackinton, who identifies himself as a North Attleboro native who now lives in Rhode Island.

Others agreed with the comments of Susie Russo Martin, who said she was “SICK of hearing about it. Too much coverage makes people tune out.” (Martin’s profile doesn’t give her hometown, but she says she’s a supporter of “Blue Pride” at Attleboro High School.)

All the concerns — as well as the anger — may be a bit premature. As the Associated Press reported Wednesday, much is still unknown about the new variant, including how contagious it is and whether it can evade vaccines. Meanwhile, many nations in Europe are still dealing with a surge in infections and hospitalizations from their old foe, the delta variant.

South African researchers alerted the World Health Organization to omicron last week, but it is not known where or when the variant first emerged, and it’s already clear it was circulating in Europe before that alert.

Nigeria stretched the timeline back even further Wednesday, when its national public health institute said it detected the variant in a sample it collected in October — also its first known case of the mutation.

Many countries around the world have barred travelers from southern Africa, and the U.S. is moving to toughen testing requirements for international arrivals.

The U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday — in a vaccinated traveler who returned to California after a trip to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, announced the California case at the White House.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.

Fauci had earlier said much more will be known about omicron in the next several weeks, and “we’ll have a much better picture of what the challenge is ahead of us,” the AP reported.

Of the 149 comments responding to The Sun Chronicle Facebook query as of Wednesday, the overwhelming majority either scoffed at the notion that the omicron variant might be serious or accused the press, drug companies and the government of using the news to manipulate public opinion.

A post by Jack Lacourse, who did not provide further background information but whose own Facebook page includes some anti-masking imagery, said, “Well The Sun Chronicle, looks like you got your answer… An overwhelming and resounding ‘we don’t care/we’re all tired of this crap.’ If you were half a newspaper you’d report that, but we all know you won’t.”

But there was also this from Joyce Hayman-Devolve of Attleboro: “My thoughts……mask up still as a person who received x2 vacs plus a booster. Not just protecting myself , but my family, friends, community, keep businesses going etc., etc., etc. I read the thread here and ask ‘why do people just think about themselves? Not my problem. Sick of hearing about it.’ Selfish in my view. Oh I am sure I will hear feedback on this comment.”

She did. The 19 replies to the post both defended and attacked her, including one poster whose page included a meme denigrating those who failed to do “their own research.”

On her Facebook page, Hayman-Devolve identifies herself as a retired registered nurse and former case manager at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro. “I am a medical person and say, my colleagues are tired,” she wrote.

A quick person-on-the-street survey in the area showed all the people interviewed had heard about the omicron variant.

For James Martin, 70, a retired Norton resident interviewed in front of the Wheaton College campus, it was all just a little too much. Marin, who says he recovered from other strains of the virus, said he was skeptical of the news coverage.

“I’m so sick of it right now. Every day there’s 50 viruses,” he said. “I don’t know why you should be forced to getting that shot. I think it’s wrong. It’s like they’re playing god.”

But there was also a less combative response from Eric Maslen, 90, of Attleboro, who was walking one of the paths in Capron Park at lunchtime. He is fully vaccinated and stays out of crowded situations — except for his visits to the YMCA — so he’s not too concerned about the virus, nor is he ready to panic over the news.

“It will be a couple of weeks, and then we’ll find out,” he said.

Tom Reilly can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews

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