It’s been 31 months since I last set foot in our office in New York City. Driven out by COVID-19, I’ve been working from home, like the rest of our VM team. Fortunately, the threat of COVID-19 has receded in many parts of the U.S. Death rates have fallen, as have infection rates. For many of us, life has begun returning to “normal.”

Yet any talk of entering the post-pandemic era seems premature. The emerging COVID-19 variant BQ.1 and one of its descendants now account for more than 1 in 10 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC’s latest data. Just one month earlier, the variant accounted for less than 1 percent of cases. There are also concerning features of the BQ.1 variant, including mutations that could potentially escape vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

As winter approaches, we may be in for a rough season. A recent New York Times article observed, “With few to no restrictions in place and travel and socializing back in full swing, an expected winter rise in COVID cases appears poised to collide with a resurgent influenza season, causing a ‘twindemic’—or even a ‘tripledemic,’ with a third pathogen, respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., in the mix.” This “wintery mix” is particularly dangerous for seniors, those with underlying health condition and children.

The Times noted that although coronavirus cases are currently low in the U.S., they are beginning to rise in some parts of the country. Several European countries, including France, Germany and Britain, are experiencing an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths, prompting experts to worry that the U.S. will follow suit, as it has with previous waves.

What are eyecare practices, optical stores and vision clinics doing to prepare for this potentially dangerous, and ever-shifting scenario? Are patients and staff still required to mask? Are they required to show proof of vaccination, or proof of negative antigen test taken within 24 hours? Is social distancing still required? What about sanitizing frames and diagnostic equipment?

Now that COVID fatigue has set in, it’s harder than ever to concentrate on these questions. However, the time to do it is now, not later.