January 4, 2022

Well, the New Orleans trip wound down with a trip to the Mardi Gras museum (much fun was had dressing up in old Mardi Gras costumes), dinner with old friends Catherine Pate and James R Hood, some gallery hopping, and a trip to Uptown where I finally bought an Alex Beard original at his new gallery space on Magazine street. David Pohler‘s flight was delayed a day in all of the catastrophes that have become air travel in the age of Omicron but he finally made it home this evening. I once again split the drive due to the possibility of ice on the roads following snowfall in the Birmingham area on Monday and spent an uneventful night in Meridian, Mississippi before ambling in this afternoon around lunch time. The trip wasn’t London as planned, but it was definitely enjoyable and I’ll have to take some more weekends in New Orleans this next year, especially if more exotic travel remains off the table for reasons of Covid. The London trip is still on (it is paid for) and alternative dates are being looked at in late February and early March. We shall see what happens. The UK is generally not a garden spot at that time of year and it won’t have the enticements of the holidays, but it’s still London. With luck Omicron will have calmed down enough by then for things such as theater to have regained their normal footing. I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it one way or another.

With David Pohler and Catherine Pate

Where are we with Omicron? It’s everywhere and spreading like wildfire. The number of people in the hospital at UAB is back up to a covid census of over 100 and we’re moving on up to over a half million new diagnoses in the US alone on a daily basis. There is some good news in all of the doom and gloom if you look at the numbers closely. First, vaccines work. They are very good at keeping people who catch omicron out of the hospital and from dying (the general death rate is up less than 10% despite the soaring number of cases). A recent study from NIH suggests that in 2021, without vaccines, the death toll from Covid would have been something in excess of 1.5 million rather than the 400,000 or so it was. While the number is horrific, it does mean there are more than a million people alive today in the US who would not have been without vaccines. Booster shots are working. They seem to be between 50 and 80% effective in preventing infection with an exposure. There is new data just emerging from Israel suggesting that a second booster might also be beneficial in the frail or very elderly but there has been no CDC guidance on this as of yet. Second, masks work. If two people meet and are correctly masked, transmission is cut by about 50-65%. If they’re both wearing N-95 masks, it’s cut by about 97%. Third, hand washing and sanitizing works (and we’ve known that since the early 19th century although it took years for both the medical establishment and the general public to accept it). There’s a reason for my litany.

Omicron is so infectious that I fully expect to catch it sometime this go round. I take what I consider are common sense precautions but unless you fully lock down with no contact with the outside world, there’s little you’ll be able to do to avoid contact with the disease. Fortunately, it appears to be less problematic than earlier variants. One of the things I wish we would get a better handle on in our health statistic reporting is a breaking down of Covid hospitalizations into a category of hospitalization from Covid (the infection is the primary reason for the acute illness) and a category of hospitalization with Covid (the infection is incidental to the reasons for the hospitalization). Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much good data on this on a national level (although several health systems have run the numbers and it looks like a significant percentage of omicron hospitalizations are persons with incidental Covid infections. That’s one of my pet peeves at the moment. With all of the money we have in this society, how can we be so bad at testing and contact tracing. There are whole states that appear to be throwing all of that out the window for political reasons. And don’t get me started on the lack of tests… Every pharmacy I have passed all week has said ‘sold out of covid tests’. They aren’t that hard to manufacture and the government has been throwing money at the sector. Congress is auditing as there’s a significant mismatch between the funding authorization and what’s appearing on the street. What a surprise.

With the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s next. It’s that time of year for everyone to get their prognostications in order and do their best Madame Cleo. All I can say is that, given the way the last few years have gone, everyone is going to be dead wrong. The car has jumped the tracks and all we can do it hang on and see where it’s going to come to rest. I’m not terribly hopeful about this next year as it’s an election year and one of our two great political parties has spent the entire last year remaking itself into the image of the former president as they believe that’s what’s going to give them an electoral advantage. Nearly 50% of the Republican congress people who were sworn in in January 2017, the beginning of the Trump era, are no longer in office. The party has purged itself of perceived enemies, trading in Adam Kinzingers on Marjorie Taylor Greenes.

I think we’re a long way from open hostilities/Civil War, but we’re not that far away from the rules of the game being changed to make it more difficult for an opposition party to be effective once the other party has captured the castle. I have no idea what’s going to happen in next November’s political elections – there’s a lot that could affect it one way or another over the next ten months – pandemic issues, economic gains and losses, minor or major scandals, gerrymandering. Anyone who tells you that this or that is going to be the defining factor is lying through their teeth. There’s way too much in play for anyone to know. I’ll support which ever party supports, regulation of unfettered capitalism, public health, education, and improving lives of average people. In the meantime, get those vaccines and boosters, wear your mask indoors, and keep your hands washed.

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