June 30, 2022

Omicron continues. The BA 4 and 5 variants of omicron are swiftly becoming the dominant strains in the US as they have elsewhere in the world. The good news is that they are not that different from the initial omicron strain which first appeared around last Thanksgiving and immunity from either natural infection or vaccination appears to be holding, at least for serious disease. It’s difficult to interpret the numbers these days due to so many tests not being reported to health authorities as they are done at home but we do still get reasonable data from hospitals and, at the moment, the number of patients requiring hospital care for Covid and its complications continues to remain mercifully low. Still, we’re at about 32,000 hospitalized nationwide (well below the hundreds of thousands during previous surges) and the numbers have been trending up by between five and ten percent a week over the last month ago. We’re also still having between three and four hundred deaths a day nationally, or the number of people killed on 9/11 every two weeks.

The vaccines seem to be working relatively well. You’re about forty times more likely to be hospitalized if you’re unvaccinated. Those with two boosters have about 1/4 the hospitalization rate of those with one booster. The biggest issue is that immunity from vaccines does not appear to be long lasting and starts to wane after six months or so. This is particularly important in older people and in those with immune compromise. There is, therefore, a lot of debate about what to do next. Should there be another round of boosters in the fall? Both Pfizer and Moderna have been retooling their vaccines to offer better omicron coverage and the preliminary results of studies on these new formulations look promising. The FDA is in the process of discussing whether another booster should be made available in the fall and if it should be changed for better omicron coverage. The final decisions aren’t out yet but it looks like the answers are yes and yes. It may be that we are going to be getting Covid boosters once or twice a year for a while. The flip side of this is modelling what is likely to happen should we not make new boosters available and the short answer to that is a few hundred thousand more people dead.

Locally, the issue continues to be rapid spread among small populations with close contact. At least three shows in local theaters had to shut down and cancel performances in recent weeks once it got into the cast and crew. Fortunately, all of my performances, since the original omicron wave, were Covid free. I’m also performance free for a while. Taking my usual rehearsal time to finish up Volume 2 of these Accidental Plague Diaries for publication and then trying to take stock of my theatrical life and see what I can do to simplify. I’m responsible for two quasi-defunct production companies, a storage space full of theatrical paraphernalia, presidency of the opera board, a couple of other theater boards, and helping with a few capital campaigns. It also seems to be spreading in the main VA hospital with about 3% of the workforce out on quarantine this week. My VA job is peripheral to the hospital so I rarely go in and haven’t come into contact with anyone sick to my knowledge. I thoroughly expect to get reinfected at some time… but not today.

I taught an undergraduate class on the biology of aging and aging research opportunities via zoom yesterday. I hate teaching on line. I guess it’s my stage performance heart. I need to connect with my audience and read them and know when and how to time my jokes and when to get serious and when they’re into what I’m saying and when they’re falling asleep and checking their phones they think they’re successfully hiding in their laps. When they’re all just in little tiles a la The Brady Bunch titles, none of that works. I just have to start talking and hope that at least one point will trigger each of them in some way. They were all rising juniors planning on pursuing medical school and health care careers. It got me thinking back on me at that age. I was at Stanford. Ronald Reagan was president (first term) and I was vaguely thinking of a bench science research career in some sort of toxicology. It’s not where I ended up but the longer I live, the more I learn that life’s about the journeys and not the destinations.

I don’t necessarily have the fondest memories of my classes my junior year of college. It was the year I battled p-chem, quantum physics, group theory, and vertebrate anatomy. My MCAT was in the middle of it. This was long before computer terminals and on line testing so I took mine with several hundred other premeds using pencil, paper and a fill in the bubble form. Due to inopportune scheduling, my MCAT was at the same time as the second tech of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ which I was assistant directing for the big student theater group. Fortunately, the testing classroom was in the building next door to the theater so I was able to run over during all the breaks, check in, and then run back and settled down to the next section of the test. I can’t say it was ideal test taking conditions, but it seems to have worked as I did reasonably well on my MCAT and managed to make it into medical school about eight months later.

Most of my friends and colleagues have been preoccupied with distressing political news this past week, be it heinous supreme court decisions, testimony in the January 6th hearings, or prognostications regarding the midterm elections coming up in the fall. I refuse to go into a funk. Don’t like what politics is doing? Go out there and get to work and change it. The current conservative surge has been fifty years in the making and has succeeding due to a fundamental understanding of how our system works. It’s a winner take all system with judiciary as the referees. Want a different result, get out there and do the dirty work in the trenches of precinct politics. Volunteer for candidates of choice. Help build institutions that will produce trained minds that are qualified for the judiciary that will view the world as you do. Sniping at each other, edging others out for not holding quite the same views or being as idealogically pure as you, ginning up division on identity lines are all recipes for ultimate failure in the zero sum game of American politics where with 50.001% of the vote, you take it all. If you lose, you mourn for a day or so, then you have to roll up your sleeves, get out there and get to work. It’s the only thing that has ever succeeded.

There’s left over Chinese in the fridge and I’m hungry. Gonna stop now and eat. But wash my hands first.

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