April 3, 2022

Capitol Building – Columbia SC

I took the weekend off. I haven’t done that for some months. I am now staring at a pile of work that should have been done and will have to be squeezed in this next week but I’m not feeling in the least bit guilty. Well, maybe just a little bit guilty, but not enough to really worry about. My Anglo-Scot heritage gives me that Puritan work ethic that makes me feel all uncomfortable when I’m not doing something constructive with my time. I might have been better off with a heritage that’s more about work to live than live to work but we can’t do much about the genetic lottery that predicates where and when we are born and to whom. Perhaps my mantra for my next decade should be something along the lines of ‘you don’t have to finish that today’.

I used my weekend off to drive to Columbia, South Carolina to visit an old friend who relocated there a decade or so ago and whom I try to visit a couple of times a year. He was one of the first true friends I made in Birmingham theater when I turned my hand to performing twenty years ago and we shared the stage many times in various projects. Our favorite thing to do together were the various incarnations of Politically Incorrect Cabaret as we’re both highly verbal people and we have the ability to sling improv zingers and repartee back and forth at each other without missing a beat. We had several good meals together; I got to see some of the Columbia theater people I’ve gotten to know through him and the zoom projects we all worked on together during the worst of the shutdown; and I got to see him perform in a very silly production of the stage version of Clue. (Basically the mid-80s film with ending A adapted for theater – not a great drama by any sense of the imagination but the director and cast took advantage of the more ludicrous aspects and went for broke so it ended up being highly enjoyable). Back to the grind in the morning.

The pandemic is winding down in the minds of American society and American governance. It’s not over. The omicron BA2 variant has spiked in both Europe and Asia and is causing significant increases in caseloads. It’s now more than 50% of cases domestically so it’s going to start spiking here shortly as well. What will that look like? Nobody really knows but there’s a few things that we can conjecture. One, the omicron wave was so steep and fast (with more than 800,000 cases daily at its peak) that a significant portion of the US population was infected. BA2 is a subvariant of omicron which means that there’s significant natural immunity circulating. Two, vaccination rates ticked up during omicron and while they aren’t what they should be, they’re better than they were. We’re at 2/3 of the US population fully vaccinated. Alabama is far worse with only 1/2 fully vaccinated. But, if you start breaking the numbers down further you find that there are populations that are pretty much fully vaccinated and other populations where vaccination is uncommon.

This suggests that the BA2 wave is likely to be highly uneven across the country, hitting different communities with very different rates of infection and morbidity/mortality. Urban populations which have high levels of vaccination and which omicron tore through are likely to have somewhat limited issues while willfully unvaccinated populations in isolation may have very severe outbreaks if they managed to escape much omicron earlier this year. We shall see what we shall see. At this point, if you are vaccinated and boosted (and a second booster won’t hurt…), you’re probably not at significant risk of major disease. But there are populations (the extremely elderly, immunocompromised individuals, seriously obese/diabetic) who will continue to sicken and die needlessly without a certain amount of public health vigilance. The problem is, we’re in the process of dismantling all of the systems we’ve put in place over the last couple of years. They’re expensive; federal dollars are drying up and a quarrelsome congress isn’t in the mood to keep up the largesse; there’s a general feeling of it’s over. Tracking officials are being let go or reassigned. Reportage systems are no longer being operated on a daily basis making data more suspect or incomplete. The distribution of home tests without a means of tracking the results means that lots of cases aren’t even being caught by the authorities.

I wonder if we’ve learned anything from the last two years? Covid is here to stay. It’s no longer novel as we’re moving into a third year with it and it’s human nature to always want to move on to something new. Are we going to banish it to history books and medical research papers no one reads? We can, but if we do, we’ll continue to lose susceptible people. Are we willing to categorize them as acceptable losses? Collateral damage in our need to move ahead to the next thing in life? The poison of distrust in science is now part of our national landscape. When the next virus comes through, one potentially more contagious and more deadly than Covid, the antivaxxers of the future will have social attitudes and infrastructure on which to build which will make containing something like a filovirus much more difficult than it otherwise need be.

Sorry to be a bit of a gloomy gus this evening but I’m feeling a bit worn down by life. The weekend helped but wasn’t long enough. Five weeks to go until I get a bit of a longer break. And in the meantime, I have social events to plan, work to do, a second volume of The Accidental Plague Diaries to edit, promotional events for the first volume (it’s up for some more awards) but one thing I don’t have is a show to perform in this spring as the one I had been cast in has been cancelled. Ah well… time to look and see if there’s another opportunity out there. In the meantime – wash the hands, get your vaccines, and keep a mask in your pocket and stick it on correctly when appropriate.

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