February 3, 2023

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Sounds like it could be a good opening line for ‘A Tale of Two Viruses’ – one of which became a pandemic and one of which did not. The one that did, Covid, arrived and swept through the general population, causing chaos in its wake and permanently altering our society and the trajectories of many of our social institutions. What about the one that didn’t? Mpox, formerly known as monkey pox, arrived about six months ago, was spreading rapidly and is now basically contained with only a few cases here and there. Why the difference?

In the case of mpox, the public health system swung into action and there were no arguments. There were no internet forums devoted to the evils of the mpox vaccine. There were no promotions of dubious cures by national figures. No one was suggesting injecting bleach or gargling betadine. The populations most at risk were identified and they quickly took precautions and got themselves vaccinated, breaking the transmission chains and keeping the virus from spreading wider and wider. That’s because the most at risk group was gay men. Gay men have had significant interplay with viral pandemics over the last couple of generations. They’ve learned how to listen to public health authorities, accept their expertise, and do what is required for the greater community good with a minimum of fuss. Covid could have gone the same way but the wider American society couldn’t pull it’s act together for common cause as the vaccines rolled out. Maybe it should take a few cues from a marginalized population, once again under vicious attack (this time in the name of protecting the children), who knows that it has to hang together in the face of threats.

There’s little to report on the Covid front. Numbers remain fairly constant. Hospitalizations are around 25,000 on any given day and about 3,000 people a week continue to lose their lives on any given day in the good old USA. At current trends, Covid looks like it’s going to settle in as the fourth leading cause of death for 2022 and it’s likely to remain that way for 2023 and beyond. I suppose coming down from third, where it ranked in 2020 and 2021 is an improvement. I was digging through some mortality data from the pandemic and ran across something interesting. Throughout the pandemic, mortality was far above what actuarial calculations foretold but, when Covid deaths were subtracted out, there remained a significant excess mortality – higher death rates than were predicted all through the 2020-2022 period. What’s more, the excess mortality rates pretty much tracked with the rise and fall of Covid numbers. What’s suspected is that these deaths, natural causes of various stripes, were likely Covid induced but not counted in official statistics due to lack of documentation of infection. Say a ninety year old who lived alone at home and was found dead in bed. If there was no one to observe symptoms and no testing, the death might have been coded as cardiac in nature as often happens in such cases. If even half of the excess deaths are from unrecorded Covid cases, the number of total deaths from the disease goes up fairly significantly from the 1.1 million currently on the books to something closer to 1.4 million. The pandemic killed roughly 1/200 Americans who celebrated New Years 2020.

We now have an official end date for the pandemic emergency. May 11, 2023. On that date, all of the various public health emergency orders put in place over the last few years to combat Covid will come to a close. There’s a piece of me that wants to think it’s a personal salute of some sort as that’s my birthday (I’ll be 61 if anyone is counting). Of course that doesn’t mean the disease goes away on that date, but it does give bureaucracy something to work with. It needs hard figures like dates. And it does give me the right date on which to write the epilogue for the final volume of The Accidental Plague Diaries. The last book won’t run through then as I’ve sort of spent all my ideas regarding pandemic tangential topics to write about but I think it will be a satisfying coda. There could also be another mutation in April and all bets will be off.

The next couple of weeks will be consumed by getting The Bell Tower Players production of Dearly Departed up on its feet. Scripts are coming out of hands, actors are finding their characters and rhythms, scenes are coming together and are finding the blend of comedy, pain, and humanity that I’m looking for. In some ways, that was the easy part. Now it’s a never ending sea of details regarding costumes and props and set changes and sound cues and lighting instruments and all of the hundreds of things that have to come together just right for theatrical production. There comes a time in every show I’ve ever done where I’ve turned to the person next to me and said ‘Why do we do this? Why don’t we just go out in the alley and beat each other with pointed sticks? It would be less painful.’ Why do I do it? It fulfills my need to create. It’s my version of team sports: getting a group of people to do something that none of them could accomplish on their own. It restores my soul and faith in humanity to work together with friends on a larger goal. All I can say is ‘Gods of the theater smile on us…’

It’s cold out tonight. There are freezes and ice storms in neighboring states but so far they are missing us. We’re just cold and wet and dreary. I think it will be a good weekend to stay in and work on sound cues and catch up on progress notes and maybe finally finish taking down the Christmas Tree. Binx the cat has made a good start; he’s decided it’s a fun game to bat at the low hanging ornaments until they come down on his head, then he bolts under the couch. At least he hasn’t tried to climb it or knocked it over or anything else equally disastrous. I should also try to do some writing – but I still haven’t figured out what the next major writing project should be. I assume it’ll come to me eventually. It usually does.

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