July 7, 2022

Interesting times in Covidland. Omicron variant BA5 tends to be the major variant spreading in the US. BA 4, which was spreading along with it, has rapidly been outcompeted and looks like it’s on its way out. There’s a new sublineage, omicron BA 2.75 which has spread rapidly in India, especially around Mumbai and which has a number of new mutations on the spike protein that may allow it to get around both natural and vaccine induced immunity but it’s hard to tell as India doesn’t have the infrastructure for surveillance testing that exists in the first world so numbers are incomplete. BA 2.75 hasn’t his the US yet, but with travel having picked up to record levels following two years of the world having been cooped up, it will get here eventually and we’ll see what it does.

There’s about 100,000 new cases of Covid reported in the US daily to public health authorities. Given that the majority of testing is now home testing, this is likely only a small fraction of the total number of cases happening per day which is likely closer to 1,000,000. While this seems like a shockingly high number, at the peak of the original omicron wave six months ago, we were up as high as 4,000,000 new cases daily so we’re still well under that number. It does mean, however, that every time I open my social media accounts, four or five more friends are displaying pictures of their positive test results and cancelling out their lives for a week. Fortunately, hospitalizations and deaths remain relatively low, although up about 30% from a couple of weeks ago and they could start taking off again like a rocket at any time. Deaths, which had dropped as low as about 150 a day at the nadir are now between 350 and 400 a day in the USA and are continuing to slowly trend up.

What does all this mean for practical purposes? We’re not out of the woods yet even though Covid news has, for the most part, fallen off the front pages and things are in flux and not in the right direction. My advice? Get your second booster if you’re at higher risk (over 50, chronic health issues, immune system issues), put the mask back on in crowded indoor situations, especially if they’re not well ventilated, and keep those hands clean. Stuff I’ve been harping on for a couple of years now. Should you cancel that party or skip that trip or forego that outing? I think that depends on your individual risk tolerance. If you or someone you spend time with is of significant risk, take some basic precautions and keep an eye on the reporting, even if it has fallen to the back of the national news section, underneath the feature article on fifty fun things to do with styrofoam.

Today is the opening of the 2022 World Games here in lil ol Birmingham. We have a new football stadium downtown, home of the USFL Birmingham Stallions and also used by the UAB Blazers during college season. (See, I do know something about sportsball…) Tonight it’s being used for the World Game Opening Ceremonies. As it was over 100 degrees this afternoon, and projected to still be in the 90s this evening, plus humid, plus no wind, I can think of a lot of places I would rather be than an open stadium so I did not attend the festivities. The World Games appear to be the international championships for events not sanctioned by the IOC and not part of the Olympics but which world class athletes still participate in and more than a hundred countries have shown up for Archery, Ballroom dancing, Rock Climbing, Sumo Wrestling, and Rhythmic Gymnastics amongst others. Many are Olympic medalists in IOC sanctioned events. Other than the weather, there’s a bit of a party spirit in town but I’m being curmudgeonly and staying in my HVAC cooled condo and hoping that traffic isn’t too bad in the morning when I have to go into work. (UAB is the site of the athlete’s village, the dorms having been given over to them and my clinic is a block away from some of the bigger ones).

I’m just hoping that everyone enjoys themselves without spreading too many microbes and sharing too much of their international biomes with us locals. I don’t have too much going on currently so if I got sick and had to go out on quarantine, it wouldn’t cause too many problems other than mucking up my clinical schedules for a few weeks. But I really don’t want to see Birmingham get an international black eye. It doesn’t have the best reputation internationally due to events and attitudes of decades past and it would be nice for others to see beyond that to this small dynamic city that I’ve called home for two dozen years now. I never thought I’d move here. When I did, I never thought I would stay. And I certainly never thought I would become as firmly integrated into the city as I have with fingers in a dozen different civic pies with friends and acquaintances amidst the arts, the medical, the activist, and the business communities.

Birmingham frustrates me. It has so much to offer and so much that holds it back. It’s a very pretty small city with its rolling hills and streams and lush vegetation but it has a summer climate that this poor west coast boy finds relatively intolerable. (Visit spring or fall). It has great wealth and dire poverty. It has a burgeoning arts scene and an indifferent local population to that talent. It has dozens of squabbling suburbs that refuse to cooperate with the central city without understanding that they could not exist without that energy and those amenities. It has the most amazing restaurants. It has an incredible system of mountain parks. It has a political culture that resembles two armed camps in a sort of sullen detente. It has monuments to tolerance and nasty levels of bigotry which often sneaks up on you from a surprising source. Why my life should have been reordered at age 36 to push me here remains one of the great mysteries. It has been the site of my greatest heartaches and the site of my greatest triumphs. Perhaps with all of my personal inherent contradictions and paradoxes it was inevitable that we would be drawn together. Perhaps, in a very real way, I am Birmingham and will remain so.

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