November 9, 2022

It’s the day after the midterms. And the result is… the country is as divided today as it was yesterday. It may be a while before we know who controls congress due to any number of close races and need for runoffs, but it looks like the gap will be narrow between red and blue, no matter which way the pendulum eventually swings. It’s not the result that the partisans on both sides were exulting about, all in their own ways, these past few weeks, but it’s what we’ve got and what we have to use to move forward.

How will this impact what comes next when it comes to the pandemic? It’s tough to say. A lot will depend on how well the current administration can maneuver with a narrowly divided legislative branch. A smart president and cabinet can use that dynamic to benefit their agenda but it needs to be done carefully and with a certain amount of finesse and I’m not sure the Biden administration possesses those skills. I might be surprised. They may be able to push through some legislation that will strengthen the health care sector, public health programs and future pandemic response. Then again, they may decide that’s all yesterdays news and go for actions that will appeal to the more current kitchen table economic issues that have bedeviled them over the last six months or so.

I was relieved that the party that seems to be most wedded to a philosophy of selfishness and greed rather than to one of cooperation and altruism did not win in a blow out. Given the current economic conditions, that should have easily been the case, but the fact that the big win failed to materialize suggests that the American voting public is more interested in governmental solutions to big problems than in destroying government’s ability to respond to big problems. The more contested states that have been on the fence between R and D seem to be moving a little closer to D in their voting patterns. Have they noted the general prosperity of the more liberal parts of the country as compared to the more conservative? Did the death of a million or so voters over the last two and a half years, more conservatives than liberals due to to vaccine denialism change the balance of power just enough? Is the public sick of obnoxious bloviators with minimal intelligence representing the country in congress and in the media? Who knows. I’ll let the political scientists sort through all of that.

In viral news, the numbers for Covid remain relatively stable. We’re still at about 300 deaths a day. 30,000 people remain hospitalized, roughly 10% of them in intensive care. It’s still not possible to completely parse out whom is hospitalized for Covid (the infection being the major reason they are ill) versus whom is hospitalized with Covid (they test positive but the real pathology putting them in the hospital is either only tangentially related or unrelated). I haven’t been able to find any recent numbers on what percentage of hospitalized are unvaccinated vs vaccinated vs vaccinated and boosted. The common sense conclusions that are emerging with the most recent data are that vaccines are very good at preventing serious disease and reduce the chance of prolonged illness or long Covid significantly. Vaccine immunity, however, isn’t forever and tends to wane somewhere around six months after the shot so booster shots remain a good idea and will likely become annual. The mRNA technology allows them to be relatively easily adjusted for new circulating strains. Natural immunity from infection also appears to wane after six or eight months so its possible to get reinfected a couple of times a year. (It was roughly eight months between my two bouts this past year and I had had a booster shot in between). It’s also becoming clear that Paxlovid, when used shortly after symptoms appear in older adults, is very good at reducing symptoms, duration of the infection, and development of long Covid. It doesn’t seem to help younger people with more boisterous native immune systems much.

Locally, the viral news isn’t about Covid. Numbers here are relatively low. The Birmingham VA, which still issues reports on numbers, is down to three inpatients and seven staff out with infections. Two months ago it was about five times this. We’re having a major influenza outbreak instead. Both influenza A and B are circulating in high levels locally and causing a lot of misery. It’s a bit weird. Generally flu season in Alabama, due to its southern clime, is January-February, not late October-early November. We’ve also been having unseasonably warm temperatures with afternoons going up to the high 70s and low 80s. At least the humidity is gone. The numbers are high enough that it’s drained the local pharmacies of their supplies of flu antivirals – it’s difficult to find a dose of Tamiflu anywhere in the metro area. At least I’m not hearing about significant upticks in hospitalizations and/or deaths yet.

Why are the numbers so high? The prevailing theory is that the last two and a half years of reduced viral transmission due to masking and social distancing, having more or less come to an end, has led to more people coming into contact with more microbes than they have for a while. As everyone has had less respiratory illness due to these same factors, immune systems may not be as revved up as they usually are and that is making people more susceptible, especially among younger school age populations who then carry it home to parent and grandparents. Hopefully, it will burn itself out shortly. In the meantime, this would be a really good year not to skip your annual flu shot.

I have finished editing the print proof copy of Volume II of these Accidental Plague Diaries. The changes are in at the publisher and I can announce a street date as soon as those last few typos are corrected. It should be by the end of next week. I think I have one more volume in me, covering the age of omicron, to come out in 2023 and then I think it’s time to lay this particular project aside. Of course we’re only one mutation away from the pandemic careening into some new form that will require additional study and understanding, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

So, if I’m going to reduce my plague writings, where and how do I direct my focus to a new writing project? Do I keep up these writings and see if they morph into something unexpected? Do I see if I can actually write some sustained fiction worth reading? Do I go back to the original book about the aging of the Baby Boom and wrestle with it? (Most of what would have gone into that has appeared in some form in The Accidental Plague Diaries over the years so it strikes me that that would just be repeating myself). Do I write a play? Maybe two? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I’ll leave it up to coincidence and serendipity. They’ve been my guiding stars for years.

Some things I do know. Clean hands are good for you. Masks never hurt. Covid shots and boosters are a really good idea. It’s a good time to be gentle with each other; we’ve been through a lot and we’re all hurting from our experiences, each in our own way. Perhaps the greatest thing you can do in life is tell the story.

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