November 5, 2022

And Volume II of these Accidental Plague Diaries is now a reality. Well, at least I finally have a proof copy in my hands and am busy plowing through it looking for egregious mistakes and typos before unleashing it on an unsuspecting world. I’ll let everyone know when there’s a formal release date. Should be in about two weeks, just in time for your holiday shopping (hint… hint…). It’s really odd reading over things that happened a year or so ago and having them feel like ancient history, especially when I realize that I’m in the midst of writing the end of Volume III. I’m pretty sure I know where the cut point for that is going to come. Will there be a Volume IV? I certainly hope not.

So where are we with the pandemic? It’s still very much with us. The numbers of ill and dead remain relatively consistent with about 40,000 new cases and something over 300 deaths reported daily nationwide. It’s the new normal that we as a society have decided is acceptable. Will these numbers go up as we head into later fall and winter? It remains to be seen. The underlying strains remain omicron but we’re transitioning from the BA 4 and 5 variants that were prevalent this summer to BQ 1 and BQ 1.1 which were unknown a month or so ago and are now responsible for about 35% of US infections. They appear to be as easily transmissible as other omicron lineages but there are also a couple of nasty surprises. Preliminary data suggests that they are quite good at evading the immune system’s natural responses so natural immunity from prior infection isn’t as good as it has been (the jury is still out on vaccine mediated immunity). BQ 1.1 also appears to evade Evushield, the drug given to the severely immunocompromised in whom vaccines are ineffective. Paxlovid still seems to be working.

Those at risk appear to be the elderly, especially those over the age of 75 or so (watch out Cher) and the seriously chronically ill. These tend to be somewhat hidden populations in our youth oriented society so morbidity and mortality in these ranks don’t always penetrate public consciousness the way that they should. Vaccines remain the best weapon we have so go get that booster you’ve been putting off. The new bivalent with specific effectiveness against omicron is going begging. Once the money congress has appropriated for it which has made the vaccines free to the public runs out at the end of the year, we’ll see even less likelihood of people going out and getting it.

The pandemic isn’t over. I’m not even certain it will be over within my lifetime, but the acute phase seems to be drawing to a close and we’re settling in to a new chronic phase where it’s just there in the background of life. I can live with that but I live with it with one eye open and a conscious desire to know what’s going on. As it becomes less and less of a headline generating, all encompassing topic, most aren’t going to take the time and trouble to really know what the issues are or what’s really going on. Especially in this day and age of infotainment and corporate ownership of media where everything is about revenues and clicks rather than about keeping the public informed. Here in Birmingham, we no longer have a daily newspaper. There is a web presence, but that eliminates dissemination of news to populations who are either too poor to own devices or who are of an age that they don’t feel the need to learn new technologies. And that latter is the group most at risk from Covid. The disappearance of print is one of the things that has pushed susceptible populations into the clutches of the 24 hour news channels with their partisan focus and their reliance on hyperbolic opinion over fact.

All of this worries me, not so much about Covid, which is reaching some sort of equilibrium, but about the natural history of the next pandemic. And there will be a next one and chances are it will be much nastier than what we have seen to date. There are now eight billion human beings on the planet (about three times the number that existed when I was born). This means humans are pushed into new habitats and into contact with new environments and their microbes. Add to that modern transportation and something highly transmissible and highly fatal is going to enter modern urbanized society eventually – and we have laid a social groundwork of distrust of public health measures, division into us and them where bad things and diseases are only a problem of the them, and a rejection of expertise for personal feeling and belief, no matter how outrageous those may be. If something with a ten or twenty percent mortality rate gets lose, we’ll be lucky if Western Civilization doesn’t come crashing down.

In other news, the holiday play that I was in the process of rehearsing has been put on ice until next holiday season. It’s one that requires more rehearsal than this company can give it so, as we’re all used to putting things off these days, it’s been decided that that is the best course of action. There have been unexpected good things that have come out of this decision, the first being that I’m going to direct Dearly Departed for The Belltower Players at Eastlake Methodist. Auditions are next weekend, rehearsals start January 9th and it goes up late February if you’re interested. The second is that it frees up my schedule to sing The Messiah with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra on December 17th. So that settles my music-theater life for the next few months. Assuming the pandemic doesn’t have other plans…

The midterm elections are in a few days. Figure out your Tuesday schedule and get out and vote. We only make progress when we do it together. When half to two thirds of the population checks out, minority policies and opinions prevail. Just wash your hands before and after you go to the polls. And consider masking if your polling place isn’t particularly well ventilated.

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