Dateline: New Orleans, Louisiana
It is late December and New Orleans has been hovering in the low 80s, dropping to the mid 70s at night, weather more appropriate to June than to nearly January. It has done what I had hoped regarding Covid precautions, more and more activity, dining, drinking, and all the other things one does in the Big Easy has been moved out of doors. Between that and the city mandate for masking indoors and the checking of vaccination status at the door of establishments, I figure it’s about as safe as anywhere as the tidal wave of the omicron variant washes over the US. David Pohler was supposed to be my roommate on the aborted London trip, so, as we both had the time off and we hadn’t seen each other for a while, I arranged for him to come down south for a few days from New York so we could have at least some semblance of a getaway. Despite having grown up on the Panhandle of Florida and years in Alabama, he had never been to NOLA and it’s been fun rediscovering the city through fresh eyes.
I picked him up at the airport yesterday and then we had the obligatory walk through the Vieux Carre with lunch at The Gumbo Shop on St Peter (one of my favorites). After some more exploring, we signed up for Brian Webber‘s Haunted AF French Quarter tour. David had never met Brian (although he does know his daughter Rosie Webber having served as her dresser on one of the stops of the tour of The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder she was on). Brian and I go way back… He was my antagonist in one of the early versions of Politically Incorrect Cabaret playing Judge Roy Moore. I still have the prop version of The Ten Commandments Monument we had built for that show. Brian is a showman and gives a great ghost tour through the French Quarter at night. Highly recommended. After the tour, we sat around chatting with Brian and other tour guides until the wee hours of the morning and imbibed perhaps more wine than we should have. We did make it back to the hotel.
Today, we slept in, had a nice greasy breakfast at Mother’s restaurant, stopped by Harrah’s casino and promptly lost $20 to a one armed bandit. Then we boarded a bus and headed out into bayou country for a swamp tour and some alligator sightings. Plenty of gators, egrets, a cuddly raccoon, an osprey, and other assorted flora and fauna. My parents spent a year in the bayou back before I was born in a little place at the end of the road in St. Bernard Parish called Hopedale, Louisiana. It’s where my father conducted his PhD research on estuaries. I don’t think it’s changed much in sixty some years given their stories of their time there. On return, dinner at Cafe Malpaso and then some bar hopping. I, being old, retired early leaving David to continue bar hopping until the wee hours should he so choose. He’s young. He can still do that sort of thing.
I must confess, being in vacation mode, that I have not been paying full attention to what’s going on with Covid over the last few days. The raw numbers are astronomical with raw counts of nearly 400,000 cases daily being reported nationwide. This is much higher than at the peak of the wave last winter when the pandemic was at its worst and hospitals were jammed and vaccine roll out was painfully slow. In Alabama, the number of cases has increased by 500% in the last two weeks, but the total number is still below where we were as prevalence was very low locally prior to the omicron onslaught. While the number of cases are proliferating to an extreme extent, the hospitalization rate has not gone up substantially, only by about 15% nationally. There are, of course, huge variations from place to place with some health systems buckling, and others well below the numbers they were battling during the peak of the delta wave. The death rate has remained relatively flat at about 1200 per day nationally.
What’s going on. We know that the hospitalization and death rates are lagging indicators – have they just not caught up yet with the number of diagnoses? Is the omicron variant, as prevalent as its becoming, less virulent? Is the improvement in vaccination rates nationally having a mitigating effect? It’s really too soon to know. It could be any of these or some combination of all of the above. The worst case scenario is we will see rapid escalation of hospitalizations starting in about two weeks and deaths about two weeks after that. If that doesn’t happen, then perhaps a combination of behavior change, vaccination, and viral evolution is happening making the disease less virulent. If so, I think we need to change our thinking about it away from number of cases and diagnoses to worrying about serious cases requiring hospitalization and what can be done to prevent this. All of the data, no matter how you look at it, does suggest one thing. Vaccination works and we all need to be vaxxed and boosted, not just for ourselves, but for our society and each other. As someone much smarter than I once said, we must all hang together or we shall hang separately.