December 27, 2020

A quiet Christmas chez Andy

The US Covid-19 case counter passed 19 million this morning. It passed 18 million last Tuesday, was at 17 million on the 17th of this month, 13 million at the end of November, and 9 million at Halloween. That’s 10 million cases and more than 50% of the total in less than two months and the numbers show no signs of slowing down. Dr. Fauci, whom I tend to trust on the subject of pandemic disease, was opining early today that things are likely to get worse and worse through the rest of the winter. So how about the mortality rate? We’re at 332,000 deaths. The population of the US in 2019 was estimated to be 328,000,000 so we’re now over 1/1000 of the citizenry dead in less than a year. I have my personal feelings about a federal government that’s presided over the death of a significant portion of its people with what seems, currently, to be a collective yawn but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Maybe I’m using the wrong words here, because the federal government seems to have not presided over much of anything when it comes to either the Covid-19 pandemic or the necessary responses to it, devolving responsibility down to states and regions and, at times, pitting them against each other for political advantage. The end result is a disease that’s totally out of control due to a lack of unified vision and messaging to the American people. Many of my friends are counting down the 24 days left until there’s a change of administration but I’m not holding out a lot of hope for major changes in policy to make themselves felt at ground level much before late spring or summer. We’ve got a few hurdles to make it over before the inauguration – the special Senate election in Georgia on the 5th and the congressional certification of the electoral college vote on the 6th come to mind. Anything could happen with either one of those given the complete abandonment of public service for private gain and short term political advantage by various clowns in Washington DC.

Whether the Christmas and New Years holidays will have similar spreading effects to Thanksgiving remain to be seen. The travel statistics from airports and the like suggest it’s going to be about as bad. The publicity around the fall surge may have caused people to take additional precautions which may mitigate caseload later on, or maybe not. My Christmas was a quiet day with the cats. I didn’t mind it. In looking through my social media feed at pictures of friends gathered by the tree in their immediate family groups, I was actually struck by the thought that this might be just what American Christmas has needed for a while. The amount of weight that has been put on this one holiday over the centuries is more than it can bear and maybe it’s time to start stripping some of it away.

Me having my American Christmas

What is American Christmas? It’s the Nordic/Germanic Jul Solstice celebration with greenery and lights and feasting. It’s the Roman winter solstice celebration of December 25th to which the Christian nativity story was tied. It’s the adaptation of the Dutch feast of St Nicholas that came to New Amsterdam, later New York, and morphed into Santa Claus. It’s the Second Great Awakening’s reaction against rollicking festivities with its images of still and silent nights of snow. It’s the commercialization of the American mercantile world of the late 19th and early 20th century realizing that they could turn it into a consumer free for all. No wonder we all go into it with expectations so high and a vague feeling of disappointment when it’s all over. Tommy and I used to refer to the Christmas season as our annual marathon: decorate house – check, rehearse and sing The Messiah with the symphony – check, prepare wigs and makeup for Red Mountain’s Christmas Spectacular – check, produce and direct the annual children’s Holiday pageant for the church – check, prepare dinner and gifts for family – check, host Holiday open house for several hundred – check. It’s no wonder we rarely went out on New Year’s Eve; we were usually asleep by ten. I miss the results of those times, but not the onslaught and the endless lists and the staying up to all hours. But we did have good times together, whether it was making costumes for the kids, assembly line baking hundreds of Christmas cookies, making enough chili for a small army. I made myself his cider and eggnog this year. I have his chili recipe somewhere but, as it makes somewhere between eight and ten gallons, I haven’t broken it out until I can figure out a way to reduce it somewhat.

The vaccine continues its march across the land with roughly a million Americans, mainly health care workers and long term care residents having received either the Pfizer or the Moderna to date. I think there’s this fallacious idea running around that once we get vaccinated the pandemic will be over. That’s not true. It’s going to take a long time to distribute vaccine to over 300 million, there are huge inequities in the system which will make it difficult for some populations to access it, even if the supplies are plentiful, and there’s politicization of the vaccine, although that seems to be waning somewhat as people are getting vaccinated without major ill effects. Be prepared to wear your masks until summer.

I read a great analogy earlier this week as to why we should care about the disease and its death toll. The author compared Covid-19 to a catastrophic weather event. If a hurricane was bearing down on Houston or Miami, would we not board things up and evacuate? It’s only going to kill 1/1,000 people so let’s just go about our lives as if everything’s normal. It’s a great way of seeing how idiotic the laissez faire arguments that emerge from some quarters actually are. 1/1,000 is where we are today and the curve is still trending up. We could easily be 2/1,000 or 3/1,000 by next summer. There are only three mass casualty events in American history greater at this point: World War II at 418,500, The Civil War at 618,200 and the 1918 Flu Epidemic at 675,000. We’ll have no problems passing World War II in another month or two and I won’t be in the least bit surprised if we have a new record by summer.

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