Tomorrow, the US will hit 600,000 Covid deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Actually, we probably hit it today, or maybe even yesterday. As the vaccines have rolled out and the educated moneyed classes have been protected, there’s less and less interest in following the disease in real time and state health departments are no longer uploading daily totals, but rather biweekly or even weekly totals. That may make the functionaries who gather and tabulate data have an easier life but it means we lose the ability to pinpoint what’s going on with any accuracy. These decisions are being made just as the Delta variant, which spreads much more quickly that the original strain, is starting to make significant inroads and, with more lax data reporting, its possible that weeks may go by before we start to notice a disturbing trend – and with exponential numbers, that may be a significant issue.
Today is either the 456th or the 458th day of the pandemic. It’s the former if we use the date the Trump administration called a national emergency on March 13, 2020 – two days after the WHO declared the SARS-2 coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11. Thanks to human ingenuity, and some political changes at the top, things are starting to return to normal, at least among the privileged classes with access to vaccines, health care, information, communication, transportation and all the rest of it. Those of us who live in this world usually consider it to be the norm as everyone they know and interact with on any sort of equal footing belongs to it. I spend a good part of my life, thanks to decades of house calls and case management programs in rural and impoverished areas, in and out of the homes of people who are not of this world. For various reasons, the pandemic isn’t over there and isn’t likely to be over there for quite some time. One of the great failings of our health system currently is that it’s designed by the upper classes for the upper classes and there are really no mechanisms by which less privileged communities can get it on the ground floor to tell their stories and needs so that systems can be designed to help them from the ground up rather than a shoddy attempt at retrofitting after the fact. A great case in point was the pivot to telemedicine last spring where more than one health administrator of my acquaintance assumed that all patients would have a smartphone or iPad, home WiFi and be adept at using said tools.
We hit 100,000 domestic deaths on 5/27/2020 (Day 77). 200,000 on 9/22/2020 (Day 195). 300,000 on 12/14/2020 (Day 278). 400,000 on 1/19/2021 (Day 314). 500,000 on 2/22/2021 (Day 348) and now 600,000 on 6/13/2021 (Day 458). Obviously the vaccine is working to reduce the death toll but the disease remains, although, at least anecdotally, it’s circulating mainly in unvaccinated populations where, as the substrate tends to be young and healthy, it’s not causing the same rates of illness but continues to send people who should have long and fruitful lives ahead of them to the ICU and to the morgue. As more than half of the state of Alabama remains unvaccinated, despite the pleading of all of us who work in health care, we’re going to be coping with Covid for a very long time.
Today was Central Alabama Pride. Given the pandemic conditions of the last year, planning and permitting for the usual parade in Birmingham was not possible so it was more of street fair with entertainment this year. It was very hot and sticky so I did not stay long but I did break out my festive new shirt bought for the occasion covered with rainbow dragons. I do so like to be tastefully understated in my sartorial choices. In my forty plus years as an adult gay man (most of them very out of the closet), I have been to lots of Pride celebrations. I’ve been to parades and gatherings in Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Birmingham, Atlanta, New York, and Amsterdam – and those are just the ones I can recall quickly. I have rainbow Tshirts, necklaces, hats and other accoutrements stretching back to the mid 80s packed away in various boxes. Steve, who loved Pride because he came out seven years prior to Stonewall, and had way too many memories of police raids and a complete inability to be an authentic human in public, instilled the value of Pride celebrations in me during our years together. It was one day where we could walk down the street, hand in hand, without fearing reprisals. Where we could greet friends with a hug and a peck on the lips without drawing withering stares. Wherever we were in June, we made sure to attend the local celebration. My standard uniform for Pride for years was a Tshirt he bought me at San Francisco Pride, our first summer together, with a hand done silkscreen of a rainbow over the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Prides of the 80s and early 90s of my youth were very different than they are now. LGBTQIA issues were not part of the national conversation. There were no corporate sponsors. (The liquor companies and HIV pharmaceutical companies started to creep in in the 90s sometime). Everything was local community time and energy. The moneyed gay community, at best discreetly out, did not make free with their power and connections. Things were a bit ramshackle, but the HIV crisis had turbocharged the need to organize and to get things done quickly and efficiently and that spilled over into Pride and didn’t just reside in health care. The young people of today have no idea of how different it was – the presence of the sick among us, the inability of public officials to acknowledge the existence of the community (I remember Steve and I whooping when we watched the Clinton inaugural in 93 when Maya Angelou read her poem as it explicitly mentioned gay people – it was unheard of for something like that to happen on a national occasion of the type), the knowledge that if the wrong person spotted you, even as an observer on the sidewalk, that it could mean the loss of your job or your lease. Now Target hauls out the rainbow merchandise in June in the annual rotation between Easter and the Fourth of July. A whole new world indeed.
Tommy was deeply ambivalent about Pride. He was fine with the concept and would usually go with me to the event but he didn’t like the fact that the most visible parts would be the drag queens or the leather guys or the go go boys from the local strip bar. He hated that those images would dominated the media coverage and that the world would then apply those images to him. I kept trying to explain to him that we live in a visual media world and that whatever makes the best viusals is going to make the news. You don’t get ratings when you broadcast a bunch of gay and lesbian CPAs walking down the street in business suits. He would have none of it. I don’t mind any of it. It’s our party. We can act and dress how we want. It doesn’t make us less human or less worthy of respect. The straight world is perfectly welcome to join the party but it’s the one day a year it gets to be our day and our rules and if you don’t like it, you can lump it.