May 14, 2021

Dateline: Council Bluffs, Iowa

Another unexciting drive across the Great Plains today. At least yesterday’s storms had petered out and the weather was fair with only a smattering of raindrops in a couple of places. From Rapid City, the road descends out of the Black Hills onto the plain and then runs more or less in a straight line for hundreds of miles. It’s flat, farm country, and pretty much featureless. An hour or so to the east of the hill country is the nothing town of Wall, South Dakota, home to Wall Drug, a small business of infinite self promotion with essentially no competition in a several hundred mile radius. I passed the billboards. I did not stop as I visited the establishment on my last trip across I-90 and generally don’t feel a need to return to tourist traps of no consequence.

More and more flatlands, with the Badlands on the horizon to the South, with the occasional sign pointing to DeSmet (the little town on the prairie where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent her girl hood) or the Corn Palace. (I stopped for lunch at that exit and drove past – it’s a Shriner’s auditorium covered with corn husks). At Sioux Falls, right turn from I-90 to I-29 and south for a few hundred miles and out of South Dakota and across the Missouri River (again) and into Iowa at Sioux City. More flat lands and then there’s the few towers of Omaha rising out of the flat lands looking like a less colorful Emerald City. My Hampton Inn of the evening turned out to be right across the river in Council Bluffs, part of a complex of hotels on the water centered around a Riverboat casino that, while technically on the water, has obviously never sailed anywhere. The CDC may be loosening restrictions, but jostling around middle America feeding one arm bandits did not appeal, so I took a walk around the outside before retiring for the evening.

I’m still trying to digest the change in CDC guidance regarding indoor masking that came down yesterday and how I should apply it in my life. There are a few salient points. The CDC did not say that it is safe for people to gather indoor unmasked. It said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors unmasked and that most normal activities are safe for them. They are not safe for unvaccinated people. What does this mean in practical terms? I think if you are gathering privately with family or friends and everyone is vaccinated, there’s nothing to worry about. Larger public gatherings are still problematic as not everyone who wishes a vaccine as been able to obtain one. And there remains a significant subset of the population who are refusing vaccination, largely due to political reasons.

There’s no way to tell who has been vaccinated and who has not other than self report. There has been a lot of discussion of vaccine passports on smart phones (but this will leave out the significant population that is not capable of using or who cannot afford such devices) so I have reservations about such a system. And having uniformed people at the entrance of a place of public gathering demanding ‘Papieren bitte’ brings up images of totalitarianism that we just don’t need. I’ve opined before that the liability insurance industry is likely to begin writing the rules going forward as they will not want to indemnify businesses depending on people coming together if the business does not have a plan to prevent the spread of pandemic disease in place. Variants of various stripes are spreading and they will all eventually reach the US and will pass into the unvaccinated population and be spread. We live in such an interconnected world that pandemic disease is a global problem, not a national problem and we’ve been so preoccupied with our issues here and how the previous administration dropped the ball, that we’ve been paying very little attention to what’s been going on elsewhere in the world. From what we know so far, the vaccines are protecting against spread and serious disease from variants. The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is such that tweaks can be made quickly. We’re unlikely to be caught in a situation as we were last winter going forward but anything is possible. We may need to keep getting Covid boosters going forward. I’d rather have a booster than a ventilator any day.

There were a number of reports today about spread of Covid in the fully vaccinated NY Yankees organization. People have tested positive. One was mildly symptomatic leading to the testing but most were asymptomatic and it doesn’t look like anyone is getting seriously ill. I think that’s the thing to remember here. The vaccines aren’t perfect in regards to protection against infection. What’s important is that they offer a very high level of protection against serious disease requiring hospitalization. If we test widely, we’re going to find a lot of asymptomatic infections as the virus isn’t going away. As long as people aren’t getting seriously ill, I wouldn’t worry a lot about these reports. It’s going to be problematic, however, if the disease gets into organizations catering to those refusing vaccine for political reasons. We’re going to continue to see spread and serious illness and death in these situations and I don’t know what we can do about it. Private entities can mandate vaccine as a condition of employment or entry but we’ve so weakened the ability of government to do this at the behest of concerned parents of the antivaxxer movement over the last few decades that it will be difficult to get government involved on anything other than an advisory role.

Brunch with a friend tomorrow, and then further southwards…

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